Monday, April 23, 2018
Features and More

Capitol Theatre scores $250,000 grant to jump-start renovation

Ruth Eckerd Hall's long-stalled campaign to raise money to renovate the Capitol Theatre in downtown Clearwater has received a $250,000 boost, thanks to an anonymous donation from a family foundation.

"It was a total surprise," said Zev Buffman, the new CEO and president of Ruth Eckerd Hall, which operates the city-owned theater. "I was seeking a meaningful number. A quarter of a million is a nice, meaningful number."

Buffman started this week in the job, having recently moved from Kentucky, where he headed a performing arts center, to succeed Robert Freedman as chief executive of the Clearwater hall.

"I was shooting in a lot of directions, and suddenly I got a phone call on the Friday before New Year's, and it developed over the weekend as a firm commitment, as an answer to my prayers, wishes and strategies," Buffman said Wednesday.

The plan to renovate the Capitol is budgeted to cost $7.8 million, according to Buffman. The city has committed $3.8 million to the project, and Ruth Eckerd pledged to raise $3 million. The additional $1 million is "subject to further talks with the city about acquiring properties adjacent to the theater," he said.

Though the renovation was announced several years ago, "this quarter of a million is the most substantial contribution" by far, Buffman said, adding that he wants to complete the fundraising quickly. "There's a deadline on this. It will happen this year. This is a 2012 goal, the earlier the better."

Stephanie Smith began this week as chief development officer of Ruth Eckerd and the Capitol. A staff member at the hall from 1998 to 2006, Smith was most recently director of development with Lighthouse of Pinellas for the visually impaired.

Ruth Eckerd has been presenting concerts in the 460-seat theater, ranging from pop performers like Lindsey Buckingham and Colin Hay to classical string quartets. There have been 28 sold-out shows. Buffman plans to begin using the Capitol for plays and other theatrical events.

In early December, before Buffman was on the job, Ruth Eckerd got embroiled in a flap involving the Church of Scientology, whose massive presence in downtown Clearwater has been criticized as discouraging redevelopment. Besieged by complaints from patrons and supporters, the hall had to disassociate itself from a fundraiser by the church for renovation of the Capitol.

Buffman said that the $250,000 gift "absolutely did not" come from the church or one of its members. "The party is anonymous and will stay so until they tell me otherwise," he said. "The leader of that foundation and members of the family are out of the country."

However, he acknowledged that the hall received an invitation and plans to send a representative to a Scientology fundraiser for the downtown theater on Saturday.

Buffman sees the Capitol renovation as a top priority for Ruth Eckerd Hall and the community, even though many in Clearwater have distanced themselves from downtown projects because of objections to Scientology.

"The downtown is critical, and it's not going to go away," he said. "It's the Jerusalem of Clearwater. I plan to meet with all the stakeholders in downtown. I'm going to do everything I can to make this project go, go, go."

John Fleming can be reached at [email protected].

Comments
Review: American Stage hits ‘The Producers’ out of the park

Review: American Stage hits ‘The Producers’ out of the park

ST. PETERSBURG — Without question, Mel Brooks’ The Producers carved a more indelible mark than most of the musicals in the entire genre of throwaway musicals it parodied.The creator of Get Smart and Blazing Saddles not only co-wrote the adaptation of...
Published: 04/23/18
It’s a boy! Kate Middleton gives birth to third royal baby

It’s a boy! Kate Middleton gives birth to third royal baby

LONDON — For Kate, the wait is over. The Duchess of Cambridge gave birth Monday to a healthy baby boy — a third child for Kate and Prince William and fifth in line to the British throne.The couple’s Kensington Palace office announced news of the birt...
Published: 04/23/18
Taste test: vanilla wafers

Taste test: vanilla wafers

When it comes to cookies, our judges are all in. When it comes to vanilla wafers, most of them admitted to reaching for the familiar Nilla Wafers in the bright yellow box. Surprisingly, they liked the well-known brand least of the seven wafers sample...
Published: 04/23/18
Spring break, hurricane relief boosted Tampa Bay hotels in March

Spring break, hurricane relief boosted Tampa Bay hotels in March

The Tampa Bay area’s hotel occupancy rate rose to 87.5 percent in March, the highest level in three years. The rise was fueled by spring break vacationers as well as insurance adjusters and hurricane cleanup crews flooding the state to restore it aft...
Published: 04/20/18
In Bhutan, gross national happiness more important than GDP

In Bhutan, gross national happiness more important than GDP

Associated PressLAYA, BhutanPrayer flags whip in the wind, flying across steep valleys and roads. Buddhist temples, stupa shrines and majestic fortresses called zhongs dot the landscape. Giant water-powered prayer wheels spin from tumbling falls. Far...
Published: 04/20/18
The Holocaust connection that makes the Florida Orchestra’s Verdi ‘Requiem’ concert special

The Holocaust connection that makes the Florida Orchestra’s Verdi ‘Requiem’ concert special

The Florida Orchestra puts another exclamation point on its 50th season with Verdi’s Requiem, this weekend’s concert series, a major presentation of an iconic work. Composed by Giuseppe Verdi, Requiem debuted in 1874 but took on a new layer of signif...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
On its 20th anniversary, Disney's Animal Kingdom credits conservation with longevity

On its 20th anniversary, Disney's Animal Kingdom credits conservation with longevity

ORLANDO — When Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened 20 years ago, it was light on thrills and heavy on conservation. On April 22, 1998, Earth Day, the Orlando park had a single thrill ride, Countdown to Extinction, and a handful of shows like ...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
On 4/20, a Tampa distillery is releasing hemp-infused Touch Vodka

On 4/20, a Tampa distillery is releasing hemp-infused Touch Vodka

TAMPA — Appropriately enough, a local distillery is releasing a hemp vodka on Friday, 4/20.After more than a year of planning and research, Fat Dog Spirits — the parent company of Touch Vodka — is releasing its new Nirvana vodka.Served in 750-millile...
Published: 04/19/18
Graze all day at Armature Works

Graze all day at Armature Works

TAMPA HEIGHTS— Graze 1910 upholds the comfortable and relaxing, yet elegant setting of Armature Works with its "comfort food" offerings and dedication to serving breakfast all day."It’s the way I eat. I graze all day," said owner Raymond "Ray" Menend...
Published: 04/19/18
Tampa Bay disciples of 'Wild Wild Country' guru remember Oregon commune

Tampa Bay disciples of 'Wild Wild Country' guru remember Oregon commune

SPRING HILL Joe Lemieux sat on the cream sofa near several relics from another era in his life, out of place in this retiree’s pastel-tinged living room and brought into the morning light specifically for this occasion. There was a beaded nec...
Published: 04/19/18