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Aquarium food trucks and operatic flamingos

Maureen Zilles, left, listens to the entertainment with guest of honor Nancy Preis during the St. Petersburg Opera Company’s celebration on Saturday. Fans, staff, and members of the company honored Preis, their CFO, who was instrumental in the financing of their new home downtown.

DAVID W DOONAN | Special To The Times

Maureen Zilles, left, listens to the entertainment with guest of honor Nancy Preis during the St. Petersburg Opera Company’s celebration on Saturday. Fans, staff, and members of the company honored Preis, their CFO, who was instrumental in the financing of their new home downtown.


A relaxed crowed welcomed the weekend at the Secrets of the Sea Marine Exploration Center and Aquarium food truck rally at the port of St. Petersburg. The aquarium is hosting a rally of about a dozen trucks selling everything from tacos to Mediterranean fusion the third Friday of each month to raise awareness about its new home.

Secrets of the Sea, formerly the Pier Aquarium, is moving to a city-owned building right on Bayboro Harbor that once housed St. Petersburg's cruise terminal. The city is accepting bids for renovations and once construction starts it should take about six months, said Mark Luther, head of the aquarium board. He hopes the aquarium will open before the end of the year.

Luther was one of about 150 people eating at picnic tables under a half moon reflecting on the water and listening to the Glass Half Full Band. The crowd included USF St. Petersburg students, couples on date nights, parents with babies in strollers, dogs in sweaters and boaters from the nearby marina and St. Petersburg Yacht Club.

"We like the aquarium and are glad it's coming here," said Robert Sickles, who was dining with his wife Jayme Sickles.


Nancy Preis, leading supporter and chief financial officer of the St. Petersburg Opera Company, has a favorite opera. "It's whichever one we are doing at the moment. I fall in love with every one," she said recently at a brunch dedicating the opera's main hall to her.

More than 120 people enjoyed the flamingo themed celebration with music featuring Mark Sforzini, founder of the St. Petersburg Opera. Preis, a Toledo native who moved to Florida in 1991, commissioned a piano and wind sextet that was performed in honor of her mother, Gladys Preis. Her mother was a volunteer throughout the St. Petersburg arts community and was ushering at the Palladium two weeks before she died at age 97 a few years ago.

Like most at the brunch, Nancy Preis sported a pink feather boa but added a light-up, plastic, pink ring that is typical of her enthusiasm.

She and Sforzini led the way for the opera to buy its new headquarters with offices and rehearsal space at 2145 First Ave. S in 2012. Its public performances are held at the Palladium. The Abduction from the Seraglio will run there Feb. 5, 7 and 9.

Anne Drake McMullen of Doyle Wealth Management and a St. Petersburg Chamber board member said the 10-year-old opera company is part of the city's strong arts presence that helps attract new businesses and development.

Another guest, Norman Smith, declined a pink boa saying jokingly: "I don't look good in pink." The opera center's lobby is named for his wife, Mirella Cimato, a native of Rome. The two met there in 1971 when Smith worked in Europe.

"I gave him a little tour of Rome and the coins in the (Trevi) fountain worked," Cimato said.

"She made me throw three coins in the fountain because of the movie (Three Coins in the Fountain). But in the movie it was three different people each throwing one coin. She tricked me," Smith joked.

Gloria Matyszyk, a leading sponsor of the event with her husband, Dick Caldwell, admired the scene in the newly named Nancy J. Preis Hall. Arrangements of pink hydrangeas, pink roses and even baby's breath dyed pink were centerpieces for each round dining table draped in black cloth. Pink satin ribbons wrapped every chair. Rogue pink feathers from all the boas dotted the floor.


The Arts Alliance is hosting the Muse Benefits for the Arts fundraiser Jan. 29. at the Museum of Fine Arts, 255 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg. (727) 518-5142.

Art Festival Beth-El is Jan. 30 through Feb. 1 at Temple Beth-El, 400 Pasadena Ave. S, St. Petersburg. The Gala Reception and Art Preview is Jan. 30. The gourmet luncheon is Feb. 1. Call (727) 347-6136 for ticket information.

The Florida Orchestra Gala reception, concert and dinner featuring Michael Feinstein on vocals and piano and Michael Francis conducting is Jan. 30. Mahaffey Theater, 400 First St. S, St. Petersburg. (727) 362-5424.

Aquarium food trucks and operatic flamingos 01/20/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 20, 2016 3:39pm]
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