In a nod to his musical background and skill set, Dan Signor is playing it by ear when it comes to his current goal to advance the cultural revitalization of downtown Lakeland.
For the past 15 years, Signor, a Highland, New York native, has been a key player in Lakeland’s music scene, regularly singing and playing guitar and piano in restaurants, pubs, theaters and wherever else he can strike up a chord.
That music-based drive, desire and effort has resulted in Union Hall, a 3,000-square-foot live music venue, pub and dining destination in Lakeland’s resurgent Dixieland business district. For the past seven months, the 40-year-old artist-entrepreneur has overseen the remodeling and reconstruction of the former pest-control office at 1023 S. Florida Ave.
On April 1, as work crews worked on electrical installations and framing, Signor — who lives in Lakeland with his wife, Raena and children Dona, 14, Aaralyn, 9 and Hudson, 4 months — took a lap around the building before settling down in Union Hall’s foyer, where he explained that he thought Lakeland “deserves a bigger and better platform for local artists and touring artists to be able to see people really support the arts here.”
With the remodeling coming along as planned, Signor said he tentatively plans to have Union Hall’s soft opening on April 26.
St. Petersburg blues-Americana act Someday Honey — featuring Kaleigh Baker, Mark Cunningham, Matt Walker and Sam Farmer — will play that date, and a tentative grand opening on May 24 will be headlined by Tampa funk, soul and rock nine-piece The Black Honkeys.
“I’ve been seeing people playing ‘gigs’ here for a long time; now, I want to see them playing ‘shows,'” Signor said. “I’m looking for interesting bands. I don’t discriminate genre-wise. If it’s something I think the community will appreciate, I’ll give it a try.”
Over the past five years, Lakeland’s Dixieland district has become a draw for bearded hipsters, stir-crazy college students and ex-hippies looking for eclectic arts, shopping and entertainment. Union Hall is within four blocks of at least four bars and three antique and arts shops.
One of those pubs is The Pink Piano, another live music venue at 1015 S. Florida Ave. next door to Union Hall. John Konior — who opened the 1930s speakeasy-style Pink Piano with his wife, Christine, in 2015 — said he welcomes another arts hall to town. Rather than competition, Konior considers Union Hall to be a complement to the area.
“I think anything that continues to develop the music scene in Lakeland is a good thing. We’re seeing a lot of music places pop up over the past four years,” said Konior, 55. “People are now driving from Tampa and St. Petersburg and other places to come see live shows in Lakeland.”
Jessie Skubna has worked at Winter Haven’s Jessie’s Lounge — about 15 miles east of Union Hall — for over 17 years and has brought a wealth of bands, including The Original Wailers, Selwyn Birchwood and Agent Orange, to her stage. She also said she was happy to see Signor’s efforts to boost bands in Polk County.
“Of course, as a smaller venue, it will be competition for us, but I see it as healthy competition and we hope to work with Dan to get smaller traveling bands to get to play two venues in the area, as opposed to just one,” she said.
Signor said his goal is to attract big-names artists similar to Ray LaMontagne, Charlie Daniels or The Marshall Tucker Band who may have passed their primes but want to get back to playing more intimate clubs. Unlike big venues, Signor hopes the music theater-lounge will allow patrons to get up close and a bit more personal with some of their favorite artists.
But intimate doesn’t mean less effort. In his club, Signor will hire a staff of 12 to 15 people, have a varied menu prepared by Lakeland’s Meatballs and More and an up-to-date sound system supporting musicians on an approximately 375-square-foot stage. He says the venue can hold up to about 250 patrons with general admission. Union Hall will also feature a 22-foot-long full-liquor bar, outdoor patio seating for 75 people and garage doors to let the breeze in during cooler seasons. There will also be happy hour entertainment on the patio.
Signor thinks that the financial investment, sweat equity and love he’s invested in Union Hall will all be worth it, and he doesn’t doubt Polk County and Lakeland’s ability to become even more popular with musicians and fans outside of the large arena of the RP Funding Center.
“Our focus is arts and music and entertainment. We want to be on the forefront of (Lakeland’s) Dixieland being a go-to location as far as being an entertainment arts district,” he said. “I feel the experience of a show here will be worth the drive to come experience talent in a growing city like Lakeland.”
Once open, Union Hall will be operate from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Wednesday to Saturday. For information, call 863-667-6525. Email [email protected] or visit Facebook for more info. The venue is also open for private events with full packages. Follow @CL_music on Twitter to get the most up-to-date music news. Subscribe to our newsletter, too.