Florida’s Broadway Palm dinner theater kicked off its 28th season in August 2020, marking the Fort Myers fixture’s second reopening since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The dinner theater implemented multiple methods to protect guests and staff — including an innovative air purification system that leverages the building’s existing HVAC system.

“My core audience falls mostly in the 65-plus age demographic,” said Will Prather, Broadway Palm’s owner and executive producer. “In order for them to feel comfortable coming to our theater in the midst of a pandemic, we had to prioritize indoor air quality. We took a proactive approach, rolling out measures such as social distancing, temperature checks and masks.

“Identifying an air purification solution was at the top of our list.”

Enhancing an Already Rigorous Approach to Cleaning and Sanitization

The coronavirus pandemic made pathogen control a hot topic for nearly every industry, and entertainment was no exception. Not long after the virus was declared a pandemic in March 2020 and stay-at-home orders went into effect across much of the United States, Prather began brainstorming ideas to safely reopen the venues he operates.

But much of what Prather saw on the market was simply too expensive for the midsized dinner theater nestled between Miami and Tampa on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The Broadway Palm has 11 mostly older HVAC units to cover 36,000 square feet of indoor space, and Prather knew he needed a comprehensive yet cost-effective air purification solution.

“I was playing golf with (Commercial Air Management President and Owner) Paul Boudreaux and mentioned the situation,” Prather said. “Paul told me about an effective, easy-to-install option that I could actually afford.”

Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization Technology: An Engineered Solution to Pathogen Control

Boudreaux’s company began recommending Global Plasma Solutions’ patented needlepoint bipolar ionization (NPBI®) technology to its clients years before COVID-19 emerged. “NPBI is a comprehensive indoor air quality solution,” he said. “It’s also competitively priced and easy to install, with low to no ongoing maintenance.

“Now, the pandemic has only made the technology more critical. And while some competing options have had supply chain issues, GPS foresaw the increased demand for its products. We haven’t missed a beat — Broadway Palm’s NPBI products shipped within a week of the order being placed.”

An engineered solution such as NPBI leverages ionization technology via a building’s existing HVAC system. NPBI products improve indoor air quality by reducing airborne particulates, odors and pathogens.

How does NPBI technology work?

  • GPS NPBI products clean indoor air by introducing a high concentration of positive and negative ions into the space via the ventilation system’s airflow.

  • Within the airstream, ions attach to particles, combine and become larger, rendering them more easily filtered from the air.

  • When ions come into contact with pathogens, such as the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, they disrupt the pathogens’ surface proteins. This, in turn, renders them inactive.

Is it effective?

GPS engages independent laboratories to run performance validation experiments. The rigorous process includes sensitivity testing, simulation testing, specialty testing and field testing. Results show the company’s NPBI technology is highly effective at reducing a broad range of air pollutants and pathogens including the virus that causes COVID-19.

Unlike other air purification systems, GPS NPBI technology is auto-cleaning, ensuring optimal performance for the long term.

Is it safe?

GPS NPBI technology is certified by UL 867 and UL 2998, meaning it delivers indoor air that’s free of ozone and other harmful byproducts. This sets it apart from other ionization technologies that are known to produce ozone, making them unsafe for occupied spaces.

Is it easy to install?

While NPBI technology provides long-term protection, implementation is quick and painless.

“That’s what was so amazing,” Prather said. “A subcontractor went up to the roof and surveyed our (HVAC) units. Within 24 hours, I had a bid and gave Paul the green light to place the order. A few weeks later, the products were installed and fully operational in all 11 units in a single day.

“Sometimes, big decisions take months to implement. But we got NPBI technology really quickly, giving us a major feature we could talk about. Customers appreciated the fact that we took this extra measure for their safety.”

Big Benefits for the Entertainment Industry

As entertainment venues go, Broadway Palm is on the intimate side. The facility includes a 450-seat dinner theater, a 100-seat black-box theater, a 120-seat dining room and a 30-seat space for small events. On the other hand, Tampa’s 670,000-square-foot Amalie Arena has capacity for 20,500 people. The arena, used for ice hockey, basketball, arena football and concerts, installed the GPS-iBAR® needlepoint bipolar ionization system in 2015.

Prather said he hopes many others in the entertainment industry — regardless of the venue’s size — will consider NPBI technology.

“I think any place that hosts large gatherings of people would be absolutely foolish not to consider this as an additional safety measure for operating in a new environment. Once I saw the facts, it was a no-brainer.

“It provides an added layer of security and safety for my customers, most of whom visit the theater for four to five hours at a time. They want to know the air is being cycled and treated in a way that creates a safer environment.”

Prather believes NPBI is a cost-effective, scalable solution for all entertainment venues, especially those with multiple HVAC units. “It’s attainable even for small businesses,” he said. “It isn’t just for large corporations.

“For the money, we can’t beat the extra protection it offers to our guests, performers and staff.”

But will air purification solutions remain critical in a post-pandemic world? Boudreaux thinks COVID-19 thrust an issue that always existed — indoor air quality — into the spotlight.

“That’s the silver lining in all of this,” he said. “Many buildings fall short of ASHRAE’s standards (for ventilation system design and acceptable indoor air quality). It’s great to see more people focused on improving their indoor air quality.”