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Our Town: Cultural arts center to restore Playhouse to ‘former glory’

One of the most anticipated events in Palm Beach – the reopening of the long-shuttered Royal Poinciana Playhouse – is still a year away.

But Palm Beach Civic Association directors haven’t had to wait that long for an early glimpse into the new cultural arts center that will be at the heart of the reborn theater building, slated to open its doors in late 2024.

Avram “Avie” Glazer, the business executive and Palm Beach resident who is, along with his wife Jill, the visionary behind the cultural arts center, and Nelo Freijomel, the project architect, were guest speakers at the Civic Association’s directors’ luncheon on Nov. 16.

About 80 directors attended the annual event at Club Colette. It was sponsored by The INNOVATE, Palm Beach, the nonprofit organization that will handle programming for the cultural arts center. The INNOVATE, Palm Beach is led by Avie and Jill Glazer.

The 860-seat playhouse was designed by architect John Volk, who added the regency-style structure to the Royal Poinciana Plaza in 1958 with the intention of creating a community center for the island.

The venue was a social juggernaut in the 1960s and 1970s, featuring Broadway plays, ballets, and musical performances, all further enhanced with the regalia of nightly dinners and dancing in The Celebrity Room positioned on the south side of the theater.

A debate about the theater’s future stirred for many years after its last tenant, Clear Channel Communications, vacated the building in 2004, saying it was no longer viable as a Broadway show roadhouse.

In January 2022, a plan to renovate and reopen the landmarked building was announced by Massachusetts-based WS Development, the parent company of Up Markets, which manages the Royal Poinciana Plaza and Playhouse under a long-term lease.

The mixed-use plan calls for the new 400-seat cultural arts center, a 200-seat waterfront restaurant, and additional retail space. Nearly all the original building has been demolished but will be restored according to the original plans, with some tweaks, including the addition of windows that will provide views of the Lake Worth Lagoon, WS Development has said. The original curved east façade and Celebrity Room mural have been preserved for integration into the new structure.

Avi Glazer said he and Jill Glazer, who is a Palm Beach Civic Association director, have a dream to create a premier cultural and performing arts center in the playhouse.

“This once vibrant heart of our community has been silent for far too long,” he said. “My wife Jill and I are deeply committed to reawakening this historic venue. We envision a jewel box alive with a year-round blend of arts, education, theater, dance, music, film, private events and much more.”

To bring their vision to life, the Glazers have collaborated with outstanding architects, consultants, and theater specialists. Through memberships, sponsorships, or programming support, they will offer ways for individuals and businesses to play a key role in supporting the project, Glazer said.

Avi Glazer is the executive co-chairman of the English football club Manchester United and co-owner of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

‘Endless’ possibilities

Freijomel is a senior project architect at Spina O’Rourke + Partners Architecture Interior Design in West Palm Beach. He is a fourth-generation architect and South Florida native whose mission is to realize the vision of the Glazers and of the project developer, WS Development.

Freijomel said the new 24,000-square-foot multi-purpose, state-of-the-art venue will feature a fully configurable 400-seat jewel-box theater and full-service kitchen available for events throughout the year.

Guests will arrive at a five-lane valet hub between the existing plaza and playhouse, then climb the steps of an elevated plaza to the main entrance. There they will enter through a trio of double doors along the historic curved façade, with the arched windows and Greek statues everyone is used to seeing today, he said.

The new lobby will be identical in size and configuration to the original one, with the box office and stairs located where they were before, he said. For the first time, the lobby will feature views of the lake and West Palm Beach and will be large enough to host social events and small-scale performances.

The 400-seat theater will be accessed through a pair of double doors. “It opens up with a 50-foot-long, 15-foot-tall glass window that looks out to the lake and lights of downtown,” Freijomel said.

The audio visual and theatrical equipment will be state of the art. “The possibilities of performances within this space are literally quite endless,” he said.

With the touch of a button, all 400 seats of the theater will fold into the floor and back into the wall, transforming the main event space into a 6,400-square-foot, flat-floor activity room with a partition that can divide the space for two different functions, he said.

Dressing rooms will have views of the lake. The north side of the ground floor will contain the full-service kitchen. A 2,400-square-foot outdoor patio will stretch along the entire west side of the building, allowing guests to enjoy fresh-air views of the lake.

The second floor will have an area for educational and community programs on the south side, and a 1,200-square-foot event room and 500-square-foot pre-function space on the north side. Administrative and technical space will also be on the second floor.

The interior design will be inspired by Volk, blending neoclassical elements with modern technology, Freijomel said.

“Muted pastels and deep red tones will contrast with brass and terrazzo to craft an elegance that is rooted in the tradition of the building,” he said.

There are no current plans for a dock on the lake because the approval process is lengthy and involves the state, Freijomel said. But a dock has not been ruled out for the future.

Plans call for Tutto Mare, a 200-seat Mediterranean-concept restaurant, to operate on the waterfront on the south side of the building. Tutto il Giorno Restaurant Group, based on Long Island, has said it plans to open the restaurant in late 2024, pending town approval. An application seeking town approval for the restaurant will be before the Town Council and Landmarks Preservation Commission within the next few weeks, Freijomel said.

Michael Pucillo, chairman and chief executive officer of the Civic Association, said the Glazers have undertaken a project that many thought was impossible to accomplish. He noted that the playhouse was closed for nearly 20 years, with no air conditioning, in the harsh South Florida climate. The developer then learned that a new foundation, with more than 200 pilings, would be required to support the new building.

“What your organization has done will be a great benefit to the town of Palm Beach,” Pucillo told the Glazers. “As an organization that is committed to the preservation and enhancement of life in Palm Beach, we salute you and thank you for what you are doing.”

Civic Association President Mary Robosson thanked the Glazers for taking on such an important project.

“Avie and Jill have pledged to create a world-class arts center that will help restore the playhouse to its former glory as a showplace for our community and cultural gatherings,” Robosson said.

80th Anniversary

This is the Civic Association’s 80th season of service to the community. The non-profit organization was founded on April 8, 1944, by a small group of civic-minded residents with the mission of protecting and enhancing the quality of life in Palm Beach.

Mayor Danielle Moore thanked the Civic Association for its decades of service and devotion to the town.

“Eighty years – what an incredible legacy for this town,” Moore said. “It’s going to be a great 80th year for the Civic Association and I am going to be here to support you in all the work you do, in the same way you have supported me in the work that I do.”

Robosson said the organization looks forward to the next 80 years of service to the town.

“We’re 80 years old and we take great pride in that,” she said. “We’re here to stay.”

Avie Glazer at the PBCA Directors Luncheon

 

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