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What's to be done with the Mahaffey Theater?



When I was writing this 50-50 Club series this summer, one of the venues I skipped was the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. It's a lovely place, but the truth is, the few concerts they held there over the summer simply weren't that intriguing to me. Despite its glossy sheen, the Mahaffey has never managed to become a major concert destination. 

Now John Fleming puts forth an intriguing question: Will the next mayor of St. Petersburg get the Mahaffey Theater right?

"Something needs to be done," he writes. "Several years ago, the city renovated the theater for $20 million, and the result was stunning, at least in opening up the lobby to a gorgeous view of the bay. But the theater continues to flounder in trying to find its niche in the arts and entertainment market. It lags far behind Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater and the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center in Tampa, and it lacks a clear identity."

Indeed. I remember this story from a few years ago, around the time of the renovation. James Taylor, Sheryl Crow and Carly Simon were on the wishlist of performers the Mahaffey hoped to book. Instead, we're looking at David Cook, Kenny Rogers and Gordon Lightfoot.

The Mahaffey has had some successes in recent months, like sold-out concerts by Ron White and Il Divo (which became the highest-grossing show in the venue's history). But as a concert destination, it's not in the same league as its former neighbor, the old Bayfront Center.

Demolished in 2004, the 8,355-seat Bayfront arena hosted artists like Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen, the Jackson 5 and the Beastie Boys, back in the days before the USF Sun Dome and St. Pete Times Forum. Lynyrd Skynyrd performed at the Bayfront Center just four days before the plane crash that killed several band and crew members. The Smiths played their final U.S. show there.

No one's expecting the Mahaffey to become the Bayfront Center again (although it apparently hosted Marilyn Manson in 2003 ... we know, we're as shocked as you). But it can surely become a great concert destination. Right?

What would you do if you were in charge of the Mahaffey? What kinds of acts would you book?

Click here for John's full story.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*. Photo: Bob Croslin, tbt*.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 3:14pm]


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