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Ybor City

Taking off the mask

The Masquerade nightclub is in for a transformation. The goal: to open up the interior, open a cafe with organic food and expand musical offerings to appeal to a wider crowd.

By JONATHAN MILTON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 28, 2003

After 16 years of rock concerts, hip-hop parties and the ever-popular '80s nights, the Masquerade nightclub in Ybor City is about to undergo a major face-lift and personality change, both inside and out, with the help of a Tampa artist.

The Masquerade's owners have decided to reconstruct the venue so that it will attract a more diverse and family-oriented crowd.

The theme for the renovation: The old meets the new.

Built in the late 1800's, Masquerade was originally known as the Rivoli theater. The Rivoli building served as a movie theater and a marketplace. Later on, it was renamed the Ritz.

Over time, and with much change in Ybor City, the building evolved into its current state.

Plywood now camouflages the windows and doorways that once led into marketplaces. Interior walls hide behind layers of dark paint. The stage, once warm and regal, plays for a younger, mostly alternative crowd. Even the floor has been emptied of chairs and dug out to accommodate a dance area, surrounded by the raw metallic railing of an urban nightclub.

The club is currently open several evenings a week, attracting crowds that average 900 on a regular night and 1,200 on a special concert night.

They come for the DJs and the touring bands, who arrive with names like "Throat Cutter."

Plans are under way to expand the offerings.

The owners and management of the club hope to open their doors to a more diverse crowd.

"It was something that had been in the owner's mind for a while," said Masquerade manager, Thomas DeGeorge, explaining the decision to revamp the club.

"We want people of all genres to feel at home," said one of three Masquerade owners, Dean Riopelle.

The owners want a theater that reflects the personality and eclectic flavor of Ybor City. So they set out to hire someone with a love for the arts and a natural instinct for beauty, an artist whose work could capture people from all walks of life.

They chose Tammy Dominguez, who was busily renovating the building's upstairs apartments.

Her mission: Transform the vision into reality.

"It has always been a dream of mine to do something with the downstairs half of the building. It's important to create a venue where musicians will want to play," she said.

The remodeling will be steered by her creativity.

"The creative force is what drives me to do this," she said.

First, Dominguez plans to replace the old wooden ceiling with one that is designed to give the theater better acoustics. She will bring in a team of sound experts. The interior will be warmed with bright colors and a plethora of fabrics. And the cold club floor will be dressed with carpet.

Dominguez wants to leave the stage alone as much as she can.

"I want to leave the original wood floor alone. It has character," she said.

Owners hope to transform the Masquerade into a multilayered theater reminiscent of the House of Blues in Orlando, one flexible enough for both concerts and dancing.

The theater will have a VIP section in the balcony area and general admission seating where the dance floor is currently located. The backstage dressing rooms will return to life with vibrant colors that reflect the rest of the theater.

"I want the rooms to be very stimulating. I want them to tantalize the senses," Dominguez said.

She says a room's energy has a great effect on the mood of those in it.

The boarded-up side of the building facing 15th Avenue, which now serves as a second dance room, will be re-opened and transformed into a cafe.

"The side will be opened up so that the natural colors of the sunset will fill the room. I see stained stained glass and Spanish tiles," Dominguez said.

The owners want to hire a chef to oversee an all-organic menu that would represent Ybor's diverse palate.

"We've come up with an eclectic menu," Riopelle said.

The project is expected to be completed within six to eight months. Construction will be done room by room while the club remains open.

At the top of the list: the new cafe.

Dominguez says her dream is coming true, and that it was just a matter of time before things would come together.

"The power of thought is highly important," she said.

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