A history-heavy Palmetto venue, the Olympia Theater, finds new life

OPAC’s brand-spankin’-new outdoor stage (Mary Johnson)

Jun. 5, 2009

The first place to serve Coca Cola in Florida is back! Yep, Palmetto’s legendary Olympia Theater has reopened as the Olympia Performing Arts Center.

The OPAC, located at 512 10th Ave. W., held an opening ball on May 23 and will feature a variety of performing arts entertainment going forward. It originally opened in 1916 as the first motion picture theater on Florida’s west coast. The theater roared for four decades before shutting down in 1956.

The building served as a bakery, retail shops and a Hungry Howie’s before closing for good in 1989 in a horrible state of disrepair. After several unsuccessful attempts to demolish the building, the bank donated it to the Palmetto Community Redevelopment Agency in 1995. The CRA put it up for sale and ended up handing it over to the only group crazy enough to make an offer: Michael Kent, Joel and Cindy Jarvis, and OPAC Executive Director/Artistic Director Matthew Mayo. “The building was just such a disaster,” says Mayo. “It was a totally condemned building. Nobody else was dumb enough to take it.”

The partners spent the next 14 years in a rollercoaster of progress spurts and hold-ups. “There were a lot of bumps along the way,” says Mayo. “One of the partners got ill, there was a suit against us by the city — they were trying to take the property. The money tightening up and the economy has been the hardest setback. It’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of scratch.” That work has finally paid off in the form of a historically restored exterior, a modernly restored interior, a 7,200-square-foot indoor theater space, and a 3,000-square-foot outdoor stage.

The OPAC has its own in-house production company that will hold open auditions for semi-professional actors. The Green Bridge Improv troupe will be performing Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays starting June 23 and The Diversity in Arts Project, which tries to promote racial, age and gender diversity, will put on shows and cultural events. “We plan to do more off-Broadway and cabaret style shows,” says Mayo, “basically the whole gamut of performing arts. The outside stage will have music concerts and interactive murder mystery dinner theater.”

The company started its Broadway Review June 5 and will begin its Recession Cabaret this Saturday, June 13. That program will be a modern cabaret review show with a late night-edge for ages 18 and up.

A lot more than Coca Cola to be found at the Olympia these days.


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