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Historic Royal Poinciana Playhouse to Reopen 2023

Posted by on Thursday, January 20th, 2022 at 9:11am.

Cultural Arts Center, Waterfront Restaurant Planned for Long-Shuttered Royal Poinciana Playhouse Site

Shuttered for nearly two decades, the historic Royal Poinciana Playhouse will reopen in 2023 as a cultural arts center and new waterfront restaurant, WS Development, the project's Massachusetts-based developer, announced Wednesday.

Seven years in the making, the project will include a top-to-bottom renovation of the two-story, 34,517-square-foot landmarked building at 70 Royal Poinciana Plaza, which closed in 2004 after Clear Channel Communications, its last tenant, left.

When complete, the new venue will seat approximately 400, said Alexandra Clark, vice president of Asset Strategy & Experience for WS Development. It will feature a stage with a retractable backdrop wall, enabling the space to transform into an al fresco waterfront event venue.

Programming will include art, film, dance, theater, music, education and charitable events.

Plans also call for a 200-seat waterfront restaurant with outdoor dining as well as 12,000 feet of retail and gallery space.

The proposed changes are designed to bring The Royal Poinciana Plaza’s center of gravity to the water and restore the building as a hub of art, fashion and food, Clark said.

WS Development is working toward finalizing a deal with an operator for the restaurant, which is expected to open alongside the playhouse and will be Palm Beach's first Intracoastal waterfront eatery that is open to the public.

"One of the biggest lessons from cultural arts center experts from around the world is that any successful cultural arts center is accompanied by a mix of uses at its doorstep that regularly drive traffic," Clark said. 

"We have been so lucky to see the unique synergy that comes from retail, gallery and restaurant at the plaza, so by creating an even stronger connection between all of those uses at the entrance of the theater, the building will be one of the most magical jewel box venues in the world," she said.

Renovation plans include the addition of floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway, plus 7,995 square feet of additional space to the ground floor and an 893-square foot, one-story accessory maintenance building.

Also planned are a new pedestrian plaza and valet drop-off between the playhouse and adjacent plaza building; a restored restaurant deck with new trellis and new terrace along the West seawall; repair and restoration of the seawall; a new covered entry along the south side of the existing building; and associated hardscape and landscape design.

Redevelopment plans will be helmed by the architectural teams of Smith & Moore and Spina O’Rourke, who will keep intact the original architectural details on the theater's main façade, including the Roman statues, quoins and curved designs, WS Development said..

Operating the programming for the planned cultural arts center will be INNOVATE, a publicly held company chaired by Palm Beach resident Avie Glazer, whose family owns the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

Glazer said he and his wife, Jill, plan to invest significant time and energy into developing the new Royal Poinciana Playhouse into one of the best cultural venues in the world. 

"The playhouse has languished vacant for far too long, and we are very excited to be able to be a part of its rebirth," Glazer said. "INNOVATE expects to develop a world- class, multi-purpose cultural and performing arts space that will be a tremendous addition to the entire Palm Beach community."

The Royal Poinciana Playhouse was designed by architect John Volk, who added the regency-style structure to The Royal Poinciana Plaza’s footprint in 1958 with the intention of creating a community center for the island.

The venue was a social juggernaut in the 1960s and '70s, featuring Broadway plays, ballets and musical performances as well as nightly dinners and dancing in the nearby Celebrity Room.

During its long history, the venue drew big-name celebrities such as Burt Reynolds, Jackie Gleason, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope as well as social and political royalty such as the Duke of Windsor and the Kennedys.

A 1979 property use agreement between the town and the owners of The Royal Poinciana Plaza mandates that the playhouse be leased "only for use as a theater of the performing and/or visual arts and for lectures or other special events."

Up Markets, a division of WS Development, has controlled the playhouse since 2014 under a long-term lease for the plaza, and spent years searching for an operator for the shuttered venue before choosing INNOVATE.

"We started our journey listening, studying, and learning about what would make a cultural arts center successful, and then we set out to find the best operator that would reopen the playhouse successfully," Clark said. "It’s not too dissimilar a process to find the best restaurant or retail operator. We were searching for a best-in-class operator who had experience, capital and passion for the project, but also a personal tie to Palm Beach."

WS Development expects to break ground this summer, Clark said.

When the venue opens, residents and guests can expect a waterfront best-in-class cultural arts center at the gateway to Palm Beach, she added.

"Our proposed plan allows for year-round, engaging programming of many varieties, thereby truly catering to our community in a special way," Clark said. "The cultural arts center is surrounded by dynamic gallery, restaurant, and retail space that once again breathes life into the playhouse."

The company will not disclose how much the project is expected to cost, but it is a major investment and will mirror in scale what has been completed at the plaza, she said.

Clark added that WS Development has worked closely with the town and community leaders on plans to revitalize the historic playhouse.

"We’re incredibly fortunate that so many community members have cheered this project on and had the patience to allow us to bring forth a plan that we know will work," she said. "This project has been a labor of love for our team and for so many in the town, and there are really no words to adequately express our excitement to be at the point of announcing the reopening."

Article By: Jodi Wagner of USA Today

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