Flood Zone Entertainment
          Flood Zone ENTERTAINMENT


Sunday, February 16, 1986, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Leisure section

Flood Zone the recording studio. Flood Zone the concert hall. Flood Zone the theater, the television studio, the dance space, the reception hall, the movie studio. Who would have dreamed that an 88-year old tobacco warehouse could become a multiple purpose performing arts facility? Richmonders Bruce Olsen, Steve Payne and Mason Wyatt. At first glance, the three-story brick building on 18th Street in Shockoe Bottom appears ordinary. A fresh coat of gray paint only hints at the renovations that have taken place behind the custom-made windows that duplicate the originals. A step through the door reveals roughly 3,850 square feet of useable space. The majority of the second floor has been removed. The portion that remains (1,280 square feet) serves as a mezzanine projecting over the first floor below. Underfoot is a springy floating dance floor - a combination of materials intended to reduce vibration and save dancers' knees. Covered cable troughs hide unsightly and dangerous electrical hardware. Electronically, the space is set up to accommodate video and audio hardware. A stage that can break down and be stored is against the front wall. A loading door and ramp provides access for large trucks and grateful roadies. The original freight elevator has been restored and brought up to modern standards. It stops at each level. A stage door opens on an alley so performers can avoid autograph seekers. Or if the star arrives early, he or she can head up a back stairway and enjoy the green room - a holding space complete with two showers, two vanities and a refrigerator. The most luxurious accommodation for performers after a hard day's night will be a rooftop hot tub. The mechanics of the operation are housed in the offices on the third floor. Spacious rooms look out on a Richmond skyline that includes the Omni, Main Street Station, City Hall, Interstate 95 and the historic Shockoe Bottom area. Also planned for the top floor, but still under construction is Flood Zone Recording Studio. The paraphernalia of music on vinyl has yet to be moved from its original Main Street location. Blueprints show that the core of the multi-track studio will float inside stationary walls to ensure a soundproof room. The control room will be wired into the studio and the hall downstairs which will enable two functions to go on simultaneously. For example: a theater production could be onstage downstairs while a band is recording in the upstairs studio. It also means musicians would be able to produce a recording in front of a live audience. Already computerized, the business will also help with bookings - for bands and studio musicians - and provide mailing lists. "The concept was to create as versatile a space as possible," said Wyatt. "A complex that will provide all kinds of services; a broad range across the board." Flood Zone is three men in their mid-30s. Olsen, a leader in the local pop-music scene by way of a band called The Offenders, met Payne on the corner of Cary and Morris streets eight years ago. Payne was an electrical engineering major who became Olsen's soundman. "We're like brothers," Payne said. "Bruce and I have been on the road so much with the Offenders, we've played so many halls where there were always problems we had to work around. When we put our heads together to work up a design for the facility, we knew what we didn't want to do." "We asked ourselves, 'What should we include that would make people want to come back?' "Wyatt and Olsen were high school cronies. When Olsen took up a life of rock 'n' rolling, Wyatt started Century Beech Construction Company, which is responsible for Flood Zone renovations. A limited partnership, which includes the trio and investors from New York, owns the building. The construction contract, signed on Nov. 4, included a completion obligation of Dec. 31. The great James River flood hit three days after the papers were signed. "We had to clean up before we could get started," Mason said. "The flood put us off a good three weeks on an already tight schedule. Plus, the work cost us more than we anticipated, what with overtime and holiday pay." "Virginia Power was out setting poles on a Sunday," Payne added. "The city inspectors have been very cooperative and responsive. They're encouraging this kind of development in this area."The facilities at Flood Zone are available for rent. The going rate depends on your needs. Andrew Spaulding, director of the Virginia Film Office, which promotes film making in the commonwealth, has given Flood Zone his stamp of approval. "It's an important facility, one there's a need for," said Spaulding. "As far as a rental facility, it may be the largest like it in the state." "It will be attractive to visiting production companies because in bad weather they're always looking for cover sets and it will be nice to have this kind of facility at their disposal." Randy Strawderman - actor, director, dancer, choreographer and head of the Richmond Actor's Studio - is equally enthusiastic. "I think it's a wonderful space," Strawderman said. "From a director's standpoint it's such an incredibly flexible space for theater. "I did an audition there last Tuesday and they went real well. I was worried about trying to create intimate theater in such a large space, but acoustically it was wonderful." Myra Wrenn, a dancer with the Virginia Dance Company and the Richmond Ballet who now operates the Richmond Dance Center, said, "The things that will happen there are unique. It will provide such a fresh approach to the performing arts as well as giving us a space to produce work from classical to jazz to modern."

From Richmond Times-Dispatch, Leisure section, Sunday, February 16, 1986


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