Historic Tampa Building Hosts Gasparilla Film Festival Party Despite Lack of Electricity, Water

By Mitra Sorrells March 30, 2011, 11:30 AM EDT

Photo: K&K Photography

Gasparilla International Film Festival Closing Party
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The former Kress department store building in downtown Tampa has been empty, unused, and gradually decaying for decades. But Sunday it came to life with burlesque dancers, stiltwalkers, and more than 500 people for the Gasparilla International Film Festival’s closing party, despite the fact that the 1929-era building does not have electricity or running water.
“I’m a glutton for punishment,” said Monica Varner, the festival’s event planner and owner of Elan Event Studio, referring to the amount of effort it took to create an event inside the old structure. Varner said she had been eyeing the ornate building for some time because “there’s not much going on in downtown Tampa, so I’m always trying to think of ways to bring events there.” The Kress Building has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1983.

Varner brought in water, ice, a generator, and portable restrooms for the ticketed event celebrating the end of the four-day film festival that included more than 86 films at three theaters. The carnival theme party took place inside the historic building’s cavernous ground floor, an 11,000-square-foot room with 30-foot coffered ceilings that helped keep it relatively cool despite temperatures in the mid-80s earlier in the day and no air-conditioning. Organizers kept the front and back doors—which had to be rebuilt to bring the building up to fire code—open throughout the party to create air flow.

MMD Events constructed a two-story stage at the rear of the room that was divided into four performance cubes, one in each corner measuring 10 feet deep and wide and eight feet high. Artist Dawn Hunt painted the plywood facade of the cubes to look like colorful circus curtains. Inside each one, dancers from Le Teaze Burlesque Troupe performed throughout the party. The center of the two-story stage housed DJ Fresh on the top floor and a bar on the bottom. MMD Events also built a 16-foot square bar in the middle of the room. Scaffolding in the center of the square held liquor bottles and also supported cantina lights, which added to the sideshow feel.

Decorators draped high-top cocktail tables in the middle of the room with bright striped fabric from Connie Duglin Specialty Linens to mimic a circus tent, while the perimeter of the room had a mix of MMD’s vintage furniture pieces such as church pews and antique chairs. Volunteer models wearing custom corsets, fishnet stockings, and dramatic hair and makeup served as both entertainment and wait staff for the party. Good Food Catering Company created three serving stations, including a “Haute Dog Bar” serving sliders and corn dogs.

The building’s owner said she has been trying to find a tenant for the building for several years, but now she may also market the site as an event venue.

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