A finish line is in sight for Stonewall Orlando’s extensive renovations

By : Jamie Hyman
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Orlando – Stonewall Orlando is known for its fiercely loyal regulars, but even they might not recognize the nightclub once the current, extensive renovation project is complete.

Steven Watkins, Stonewall’s owner, says he’s wanted to renovate the bar since it opened its doors eight years ago. The project has been ongoing since 2013, and there is an end in sight – Watkins says the project is “85 percent complete,” and his contractor is telling him that a renovated Stonewall will be open for business by Orlando Pride in October.

“I have no control over that,” Watkins says. “If I did, it would have been done last year.”

The project has several major components, including a second floor topped by a rooftop bar with a 1,400 gallon water feature, along with panoramic, skyline views of downtown Orlando. Watkins is adding an outdoor “Leather Levi” club in the back called “The Meat Market,” featuring a “huge and masculine-looking” gazebo “that’s really beefed up; it can hold up the Empire State Building.”

Arguably, the most unique feature will be what Watkins calls a “motional nightclub.”

“The weather’s going to change inside the bar,” he says. “It’s going to snow and rain and fire; you can feel the different elements of weather while you’re dancing.”

There’s a new logo, but the name of the bar will stay the same, as will the clientele.

“We’re [still] still going to be a gay bar but open to everybody, of course,” Watkins says.

And what do those loyal regulars think of all the changes?

“They like it,” Watkins says. “They get a little frustrated, but they know in the long term it’s going to be worth it.”
He says it helps that the bar has remained open throughout, allowing the regulars to see “where their money’s going, so they can see progress.”

Walter G. Hawkins, the director of urban development for the city of Orlando, said the city is “excited” about the new Stonewall.

“They have been a tremendous partner in the downtown Parramore area,” Hawkins says, adding that the city supported the bar’s opening through some small business assistance program funding and a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“Steven should be applauded for staying focused on this operation, and we, as a city, wish him well,” he sais. “We’re quite sure he’ll continue to be as successful as he has been.”

Especially now that Stonewall is set to reap the benefits of the development boom currently underway downtown.

“They’re in a prime location with the MLS soccer stadium next door and Amway Center two blocks away,” Hawkins says.

Watkins says that is only somewhat strategic on his part.

“We didn’t know the arena was coming, but I knew something would be here eventually, and I just wanted to be prepared for it,” he says.

Hawkins says whenever he drives by Stonewall, their parking lot is full and the bar appears busy. He says the business “provides diversity” and adds value to the neighborhood.

“I think it provides another economic development opportunity for the area,” Hawkins says. “It also provides attention to the Parramore area, with the diversity of housing, entertainment, sports.”

He says Watkins hasn’t yet requested a ribbon cutting to launch the renovated Stonewall, but if he asks for one, the city will likely provide it.

“It just lets people know that the leadership values the partners that are coming into the area,” Hawkins says. “It is one business at a time, it is one block at a time, it is one house at a time, but we are putting together a community that everyone in Orlando can be proud to be a part of.”

Right now, Watkins says he’s waiting for some electrical work to be completed and to pass a key inspection.

“Once we get this inspection and that passes, then the elevator goes in, and all the rest of the drywall goes in and we’ll start doing finishes,” he says. “Right now, the upstairs is roofed in, all the structure is in, all the electrical and plumbing are put in place.”

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