Tampa Performing Arts Center gets a major gift and a new name

Financier David A. Straz Jr., for whom the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center will be named, is congratulated by his wife, Catherine, left, and their daughter, Keebler, at Monday’s ceremony.

Photo by Nick Sanders

Financier David A. Straz Jr., for whom the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center will be named, is congratulated by his wife, Catherine, left, and their daughter, Keebler, at Monday’s ceremony.

TAMPA — Thanks to what was billed as the largest individual philanthropic gift made to a cultural institution in the bay area, the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center will be renamed the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

"This is a defining moment for the performing arts center,'' Martin L. Silbiger, chairman of the board of trustees of the center, said Monday afternoon as trustees, staff members of the center and assorted politicians gathered in the lobby of Morsani Hall with flutes of champagne.

The amount of the gift from the foundation of Straz, a Tampa financier, wasn't announced, but it could be as much as $25 million.

The center is "widely considered one of the great performing arts centers in the world,'' Straz said. "Our goal is to ensure that it remains world class for our community.''

Straz, 67, is a native of Milwaukee and resident of Tampa since 1980. After his graduation with a degree in finance from Marquette University in 1965, he embarked on a banking career that involved buying and selling banks in Wisconsin and Florida. He sold his banks to larger bank holding companies such as U.S. Bank, Bank of America and Fifth Third Bank.

He already has his name on several educational institutions, including the college of business administration building and a residence hall at Marquette, where he is a past chairman of the board of trustees. Straz Hall, a dormitory at the University of Tampa, is named for him. He is past chairman of the UT board of trustees. The science center at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis., is named in his honor.

In 2000, Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo dedicated the David A. Straz Jr. Manatee Hospital. His wife, Catherine Lowry, is chairman of the board of the zoo, which is named for her family. David and Catherine have a daughter, Keebler, who was with them for Monday's announcement.

"We always knew that someday there would be a name on this building,'' said Judy Lisi, president and CEO of the center. "Boy, did we hit a home run. That name is now going to be in lights shining for all time. This gift means so much to us.''

The performing arts center opened in 1987 by the Hillsborough River on land donated by the city. Its construction cost $57 million, financed by private contributions and municipal bonds. The complex started out with three theaters and has grown to include two more and the Patel Conservatory.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio was at Monday's ceremony.

"I signed the letter this morning'' authorizing the name change, she said. "I was proud to do it. David wants to make a difference. And he always sees the long-term picture.''

Until now, the largest individual gift to the center came from Tampa automobile dealer Frank Morsani and his wife, Carol, who gave $5 million, with the center's largest theater being named after her.

Dr. Pallavi Patel and her husband, Dr. Kiran Patel, also made a $5 million gift to help establish the performing arts conservatory named for her.

The amount of Straz's gift was not disclosed "at the request of the donor, and we're going to honor that,'' said Mandell "Hinks'' Shimberg, chairman of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center Foundation, the center's fundraising arm.

The foundation goal is to raise a $100 million endowment. "This gift is a significant step toward our goal,'' Lisi said. "It will get us about halfway there.''

Julie Britton, the center's vice president of development, said the current market value of the endowment, not including the Straz gift, is about $25 million.

Straz is on the board of directors of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He and his wife collect French Impressionist paintings, Dresden china and European antiques.

"We believe that we are all better people when we have access to the arts,'' Straz said in his brief remarks to the crowd.

Straz also serves as vice chairman of Tampa General Hospital and is on the boards of the Les Aspin Center for Government and the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation. He is ambassador at large and honorary consulate general of the Republic of Liberia. He is a member of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla.

Fittingly, Monday's ceremony ended with a performance from Wonderland: Alice's New Musical Adventure, the musical that is being produced by the center with aspirations to land on Broadway. With composer Frank Wildhorn at the piano, Janet Dacal, who plays Alice, sang a soaring ballad from the show, Finding Wonderland.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.

Biography

David A. Straz Jr., 67

Accomplishment: His gift means the center will be renamed the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

Education: Finance degree from Marquette University in 1965.

Business: Built banking organizations in Wisconsin and Florida that he sold to U.S. Bank, Bank of America and Fifth Third Bank.

Boards: Tampa General Hospital, Metropolitan Opera, Les Aspin Center for Government, Mayo Clinic Foundation, Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation.

Family: Wife, Catherine Louisa Lowry; daughter, Keebler.

Quote: "We believe that we are all better people when we have access to the arts.''

Tampa Performing Arts Center gets a major gift and a new name 11/16/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 17, 2009 1:32am]

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