Ybor Amp's new champ on the future of La Septima
Q & A with FRANKIE RODRIGUEZ
By JAY CRIDLIN, Times Staff Writer
Published November 30, 2007
YBOR CITY - Frankie Rodriguez held his breath when he walked in the door at 1609 E Seventh Ave. in Ybor City.
"I honestly expected the worst," he said. "I know it had been closed a while, and I know it closed suddenly, so I didn't know what to expect inside."
Twelve days later, he'd turned the building back into the 12,000-square-foot party pad it was before.
Rodriguez, 31, and his father, Ramon, run the reopened Ybor Amphitheater - formerly the Amphitheater, perhaps the most bustling nightclub in Ybor, with a regular slate of world-class guest DJs like the Crystal Method and Tommy Lee.
But in April, owner John Santoro closed the club for financial reasons. It sold to parking magnate and real estate investor Jason Accardi in September for $1.29-million, and Rodriguez, who previously owned Studio Inc. on Waters Avenue, came on board to resurrect the club.
While Santoro pursues other avenues - he said he's eyeing a handful of locations in Tampa and downtown St. Petersburg for a possible new club next spring - its new owner is trying to build on the club's reputation.
What does Rodriguez have in store for the Ybor Amp, and how does he see "La Septima," or Seventh Avenue, changing in the years to come? We stopped by the club recently for a chat.
What was the hardest thing you had to do to get this club up and running again?
The biggest hurdle was Ybor City itself, because there are so many different rules and regulations that pertain to Ybor City. With Studio Inc., we didn't have to cross those hurdles. I wish somebody would have given me a manual of everything I needed to do. The city officials were more than willing to open their arms for us but, for instance, we needed certification from the Department of Transportation to be able to operate.
A queueing line. I had to measure from the door to the street, diagram it all out, and then they could give me a permit for where I can put my ropes out front. And once we're up and running, I have to abide by that.
This all happened at the same time as Guavaween. Were people surprised to see it open?
Oh yeah. We hear it all the time: "The Amp is open?" Legally, our name is not the Amp, it's the Ybor Amphitheater. But regardless, people are realizing that what was built here by John Santoro, we're trying to build on that and make it into our own.
Do you think there's a big appetite for electronic music in this area?
I think so. If you can establish a niche in a market for yourself, people will come. When we first did Studio Inc., back then, the Latin scene in Tampa was really nonexistent. And we did almost 200 concerts there in 31/2 years.
We were able to take something that didn't even exist and turn it into a market. It's the same thing with the electronic scene. Amp had that void filled, and then once the Amp closed, you started seeing Jackson's and other clubs capitalizing on it, which is great. I'm not one of those guys that thinks, "We have to be the only ones doing it, and we have to knock everybody out." On the contrary - we all need to work together, because it pulls more people out.
And you're also establishing a Latin night on Fridays, right? What's the thought there?
We're trying to bring the Latin crowd to Ybor City. For whatever reasons, Ybor City has not really had that Latin flavor. Back in the day, there used to be a club called La Cueva, back in 2002, 2001.
But in the last couple of years, it seems like Latin people haven't had a reason to come out to Ybor. Fuel's a reggaeton crowd - that's the 18 to 25, 18 to 30 crowd that listens to hip-hop and reggaeton.The crowd that we're looking for on our Latin nights is the 25 to 45 young professionals that want to go out with their girlfriends or wives to do some salsa dancing. More of an upscale environment.
You see clubs changing hands, clubs closing, clubs reopening. Do you think Ybor City is as safe a bet now, from a business standpoint, as it was a few years ago?
I think now's the time to get in. If you'd asked me that question a year ago, I'd have told you I'd never go to Ybor. To me, the demise of Ybor was due to several factors, but one of the main factors was when clubs started doing three-for-one (drink specials), four-for-ones. If a person is looking for a club that's got a three-for-one, that tells me (A) they don't have a lot of money, and (B) they're looking to get drunk. After that, that's when the problems start. It's chaos.
How do you think Ybor will look in a year?
I really believe that by next summer, Ybor will be where it used to be. You're starting to see different owners coming in with the mentality that I have - like the guys at G Bar, they think the same way. (Tampa Alcohol Coalition) told me one of their initiatives is to make Ybor City 21 and up. To be honest with you, on that statement, I have no problem with it. Maybe Thursdays are a college night; make that 18 and up. But if we're trying to build Ybor City on Fridays and Saturdays, I don't have a problem with doing 21 and up. I'll tell you this - if we can pull 30,000 people here on a Saturday night, everybody's making money.
Latin Nightat the Ybor Amp
Salsa crooner Jerry Rivera performs at 8 p.m. Friday at Ybor Amphitheater, 1609 E Seventh Ave. in Ybor City. Tickets are $20; entry is 18 and up for women, and 21 and up for men. For info, visit myspace.com/yboramp.