What is one thing that EVERY engaged couple needs to research, visit, discuss with the family, read online reviews, etc to find the perfect match? The venue, of course! There are so many different options for venues in Central Florida – in a church, garden, museum, beach, on a boat, under a big oak tree, or even in a beautiful refurbished building. Everyone has their own style and preferences and that’s the beauty of each unique wedding. I am so excited to share some valuable wisdom from the owners of the gorgeous, built in 1925, Rialto Theater in Tampa. When I walked through the bright blue doors for the first time recently at the Tampa Indie Flea, my jaw dropped and my eyes could not peel off of the gorgeous, gigantic arch and the surprisingly high ceiling over the stage. It is such a pretty and unexpected sight. Hope and George have a unique background and knew they were the perfect match to purchase and renovate the theater. Read below for more information about the Rialto Theater and Hope’s helpful tips to all you engaged couples.
(Photos by Best Photography)
If you had 1 minute to tell a new friend about your business, what would you say?
Because the abandoned theater doors were blocked over for so many years, no one expects what is behind the blue doors. Once you walk in and see the expansive space and giant proscenium arch, it simply takes your breath away. I love watching peoples’ faces as they enter for the first time; it never gets old. The theater seats and stage were removed in the ‘50s but what remains is a beautiful blank canvas that can be transformed into unlimited themes and styles to create the perfect experience for each event. I love old buildings and am finding that a lot of other people do, too, so I wish other people would take the plunge and put in the work to restore some more amazing spaces still hidden around Tampa.
Tell us about your background that led to you owning the Rialto Theater.
My husband and I purchased the Rialto Theatre in 2013 and began renovations the same day we signed paperwork. Our company is 8-Count Productions and we offer creative consulting and choreographed solutions; so I curate the gallery and other art events locally, we offer choreography and dance lessons, as well as space rental for photo shoots, productions, and all kinds of events. I spent almost 15 years in professional and collegiate sports entertainment including 4 professional teams and am a painter and teacher. George has a substantial dance background, also, and is a photographer and software analyst. We knew we wanted an amazing space to run our business but never suspected we would buy a 90 year old theater!
What are some helpful tips you can give to engaged couples regarding wedding venues/locations?
Just like finding the right engagement ring or wedding dress, finding a venue is about fit. I tell my brides/grooms that it is YOUR DAY, YOUR WAY. If you want to be outside in a garden, find that. If you want to do a wedding brunch, do that. There isn’t a right or a wrong way to create your wedding day, just your way.
Where is the theater located? What are some interesting things nearby?
The Rialto is located at the junction of Downtown Tampa, Seminole Heights, and Ybor City or as we call it, “downtown-adjacent” Tampa Heights. Not only are we steps from Downtown and Riverwalk, we are also neighbors to Hidden Springs Brewery, Ulele Restaurant, and Water Works Park. We are thrilled to be a part of the revitalization efforts and community renewal happening along the “Yellow Brick Row”, aka North Franklin Street, and the Tampa Heights community.
What makes your venue unique and special?
The building itself has history as a live-stage theater supported by the Federal Theater Project, then a projection cinema in the ‘40s before becoming part of a car repair shop including welders and equipment. Now, the historic space is filled with spectacular events most weekends and creative projects, shows, and productions the rest of the time.
How have you seen wedding guests react to your venue? Many of our clients say they didn’t think they could find this kind of space in Florida and then guests are amazed to see what is behind the blue doors, especially if they have lived in Tampa for a number of years, never realizing the theater was here.
Do you host events other than weddings at the theater?
We host a number of theme parties, galas, fundraisers, birthdays, showers, and networking events, and have the option of booking the entire venue or just the art gallery, stage area, or main studio of the theater. We also host photography workshops, dance cyphers, and other workshops during the week.
What were some of your favorite memories from your own wedding? George and I were the first couple married at the Rialto! We were still in the middle of renovations, but we got to share our vision with our closest friends and family as we started the next chapter of our life together. We also took rooftop pictures overlooking the Tampa skyline, which is only accessible up three flights of stairs, up two ladders, and out a hatch door to the roof. I climbed it with the assistance of my maid of honor in a huge ball gown and 6” heels and it was completely worth it.
What does a perfect non-working Saturday look like for you?
Is there such a thing as a non-working Saturday? George and I like to brunch. Okay, I like to brunch and drag George along. Or we go to coffee shops with our laptops and just enjoy people watching while editing photos or playlists. And sometimes we “downtown drift” with a camera to explore the city we love.
Hope and George on the rooftop at the Rialto! Swoon!!
(Photo by Stehlik Foto)
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