Thursday, April 26, 2018
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St. Petersburg Opera finds a permanent home downtown

ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg Opera will soon no longer be holding rehearsals in rented clubs, church basements or even board members' homes, because the 7-year-old company recently bought a building for itself.

By next spring, the 10,000-square-foot warehouse at 2145 First Ave. S in the Grand Central and Warehouse Arts District just west of downtown will resound with arias of love and death.

"I think it puts us on the map," said Nancy Preis, chief financial officer of the company and a board member. "It gives us a physical presence in the city. It also gives us a lot of efficiencies that we've been lacking. We have been renting rehearsal space wherever we could find it. The difficulty is that we can't find the space when we need it at a price we can afford. I've hosted rehearsals in my living room, and it's nice and it's fun but kind of hard on the wear and tear on my house."

On Aug. 13, the opera purchased the building for $425,000 from Alec Ross & Associates, a Miami company. Built in 1953, the pink concrete block structure is next to a woodworking shop. Vacant for several years, it has housed a laundry, a recording studio and music publisher.

Artistic director Mark Sforzini and Preis began looking for space in June after the company received a bequest from the estate of Eileen Albanese, former president of the Florida Suncoast Opera Guild, who died in March. That gift, the amount of which was not disclosed, plus temporary financing from a friend of the opera allowed the company to pay cash for the building, according to Preis.

"We got lucky on this building," Preis said. "When we walked through it, Mark and I both looked at each other and said, 'Oh, my God, it's almost perfect the way it is.' The interior walls were all pretty much in the right place. We only moved one wall."

Once work is finished on the building, it will include several rehearsal spaces, costume and set shops, offices and storage. Preis said the greatest expense will be for new air conditioning, plumbing and electrical work. The company, which has an annual budget of more than $600,000, plans a $1 million capital campaign to pay for the building and its improvements.

Over the summer, St. Petersburg Opera received a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to aid the company's education program. Its recent run of Sweeney Todd at the Palladium Theater "was a hit," Preis said. "We had the best fall sales we've ever had." Upcoming productions at the Palladium include the holiday "Seasonal Sparkle" in December and Puccini's Tosca in February.

The opera company is giving a tour Wednesday of its new home to supporters, people with other St. Petersburg arts organizations and neighbors.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.

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