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Ruth Eckerd Hall tops Billboard's list of best venues with less than 2,500 seats

A pool on the eighth floor is just one of the highlights at the new Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

A pool on the eighth floor is just one of the highlights at the new Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa.

CLEARWATER — From Riverdance to Joan Rivers, a galaxy of stars and theatrical productions has shone on the main stage at Ruth Eckerd Hall.

Now the venue itself is in the spotlight.

The 2,180-seat performing arts center has been ranked No. 1 worldwide for 2009 among venues with 2,500 seats or fewer. That's according to Billboard magazine's 2009 year-end issue, which ranked facilities around the world according to gross ticket sales.

Based on the report, the entertainment hall's gross ticket receipts topped $10 million from a total 173 performances — 26 of which were sellouts — between December 2008 and November 2009.

All this was in spite of the dreary economy, which resulted in a 15 percent slump in ticket sales for the venue during 2009.

"What this ranking tells me is that we have the right programming despite the economic challenges," said Robert Freedman, president and CEO of Ruth Eckerd Hall, which is in its 27th season at 1111 N McMullen Booth Road.

In addition, favorable demographics, physical design and location work together to make Ruth Eckerd Hall an industry leader, he said.

Fake 'no parking' signs result in ticket refunds

TARPON SPRINGS — Officials are sending refunds to motorists who were wrongly ticketed for parking near fake "no parking" signs outside the Tarpon Turtle Grill and Marina.

The city sent notices last week to registered owners of vehicles cited for parking violations from 2006 to 2008 because of the unauthorized sign, which fooled Tarpon Springs police. Over the two-year span, police issued 233 tickets.

A local developer planted the "no parking" signs in 2006 near the restaurant on Lake Tarpon Drive and nearby streets, including Burton Place, without city approval, officials said.

Tarpon Springs police Chief Robert Kochen wrote in a May report that developer Mike Bronson admitted installing 22 signs along the city right-of-way after initially denying it.

Resort finally opens on Clearwater Beach

CLEARWATER — After 10 years and three owners, a plan for a waterfront resort in the heart of Clearwater Beach has come to fruition.

At Monday's grand opening of the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa, city leaders remarked that NJR Development was finally the one to pull it off.

"They persevered. They pushed on. And they completed it," said City Council member John Doran.

The opening of the 250-suite luxury resort marks the second time in more than 25 years that Pinellas County has a new resort hotel on the beach.

Five years ago, NJR president Neil Rauenhorst's company paid $18.5 million for the property at 301 S Gulfview Blvd.

With lending freezes and the recession, several other projects foundered.

"We think that is significant that we could complete this project in this environment," Rauenhorst said.

From land or from water, the 1 million-square-foot, coral-colored resort can't be missed.

"Even the color of the building was thought through to create a landmark and an icon on Clearwater Beach," Rauenhorst said.

City officials said they expect the resort to bring new customers to Clearwater Beach and boost nearby establishments.

"There's always an enormous spinoff of hotels of this caliber to surrounding businesses," Mayor Frank Hibbard said.

27 Chargers players sign soccer scholarships

SAFETY HARBOR — In four seasons as the starting goalkeeper on the Pinellas Park High girls soccer team, Alyssa Doheny never noticed a college scout on the sidelines.

She realized the team wasn't exactly viewed as a soccer juggernaut. It never had a winning season during her tenure.

"My freshman year was especially hard because it seemed I'd get mercy-ruled every single game," she said, referring to when a game is cut short because one team has an eight-goal lead. "I remember one game against Palm Harbor I had 40 shots coming at me. And that was only the first half."

But on Wednesday night, Doheny posed for photos after signing to play for the University of North Florida. She was one of 27 Tampa Bay area players to extend their soccer careers at a signing ceremony at the Safety Harbor Resort & Spa.

The common thread among the group? All play for the Clearwater Chargers Soccer Club.

Doheny credits the Chargers for helping her earn a scholarship.

"The first tournament I played with the Chargers, I was shocked because the entire sideline was filled with coaches," she said. "The first time I saw it, I said, 'Wow, there's a lot of parents here' and someone was like, 'No, those are all coaches.' "

Peter Mannino, director of coaching for the Clearwater Chargers, said the number of players signing this year was unprecedented for a club that touts Major League Soccer players Jeff Cunningham and Bobby Boswell among its alums.

Ruth Eckerd Hall tops Billboard's list of best venues with less than 2,500 seats 02/06/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 5, 2010 6:08pm]
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