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Pier Aquarium, Vinoy, Nova offer singles a chance to mingle in something other than bar scene

Butch Ringelspaugh addressed the crowd of adults sipping wine and nibbling cheese.

"Are you guys ready to hear about some coral on coral action? I'm going to tell you about coral sex," said the Pier Aquarium's curator of exhibits.

"Unfortunately a lot of coral reefs are being diminished so right now these guys need sex more than ever," he continued as he held a branch of rust colored hard, poky, sharp coral.

"I'm not volunteering," a guy quipped from the audience.

Fortunately that wasn't necessary. Coral reproduce by releasing eggs and sperm bundles into the water.

The topic was fitting for the aquarium's recent Bait Night, an event designed to attract single adults.

"Most of our visitors during the day are either seniors or families," said Emily Stehle, Pier Aquarium spokeswoman. She thinks these monthly events will create a new age group of patrons.

More than 35 people showed up recently to the Bait Night headlined by the sex life of coral. About half were single and half couples looking for a different kind of date night.

For $10 guests get a seven-minute sex talk about a marine creature, a glass of wine, free appetizers, live music and an art demonstration. The coral talk also featured local artist Rasta Taylor painting a hip picture of fish that was given away in a drawing at the end of the night.

"We think this concept for activities for adults really does work for us," Stehle said. "I've been wanting to try this for a while."

The aquarium isn't the only local venue to realize it's time to go after a demographic typically dominated by bars and online dating services. Singles spend about $2 billion a year meeting each other via online dating, mobile dating, matchmakers, singles events and personal ads, according to IBISWorld, a research firm in Santa Monica, Calif.

The Vinoy hotel started monthly singles nights in March and has activities planned throughout the end of the year, including a winery tour, a hayride and a ghost tour.

Nova Unique Event Space at 535 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N is hoping to host 100 or more singles at its upcoming "Love, Potentially at NOVA." Guests will fill out an online survey in advance and responses will be programmed into a badge they will wear at the event. When someone comes within a few feet of someone else with the same interests, their badges will light up.

A group of 40- and 50-something singles attending the Vinoy's recent singles night for a private tour of the Dalí were glad to have a relaxed and reasonably priced way to meet people. They traded war stories from match.com. They bemoaned registration fees of $1,000 to $2,400 to meet local singles in person through national franchises such as of Events and Adventures and It's Just Lunch.

The $20 it cost to meet at the Dalí for the "provocateur" tour was stress free and a bargain.

"I'd rather come to something like this, seeing something new with a group. It's very low pressure," said Rick Jensen, who moved to St. Petersburg from Atlanta in December.

"I'm not a drinker so this is an opportunity to talk and mingle that's not centered around a bar," said Dawn Greenridge.

Christine Czerwinski pointed out that by meeting someone at the Vinoy gatherings you already know you have something in common such as golf or tennis or you at least live in the same area.

"It's great to have more singles events going on in St. Petersburg instead of just Tampa," said Czerwinski, who was one of about 20 people at the Vinoy event.

"Nowadays not everybody likes to do the bar scene. This is a great way as a group to meet other singles not necessarily for dating but also for friendship," said Joanne Bird, the club accountant who started the program at a member's request. The events are for members of the Vinoy Club but they are welcome to bring outside guests. The singles nights accomplish the two goals of providing another activity for existing members and recruiting new ones.

"Our mean age (of 1,150 memberships) is 42. We're a very young club, which is different from a lot of clubs in the area. We're getting a lot more young professionals in over the last year or so we've noticed," Bird said.

Michael Novilla, the owner of Nova Unique Event Space, has big expectations for the flashing badges event coming up at his venue, which is usually rented out for private parties.

"This will be our first truly branded singles event," he said. "It's going to be a really good questionnaire, like a psychological exam. We want to be able to take the best of technology and best of systems that have worked for thousands of years."

He hasn't finalized the date yet but said it will probably be in October. The cost will be $15 to $20 and include a cash bar.

Badges will start flashing the same color when people of similar interests are within 10 or 15 feet of each other.

"It will be like, 'Hey we're both greens,' " Novilla said. "When you flash the same color, that takes the awkwardness out of it."

Katherine Snow Smith can be contacted at (727) 893-8785 or kssmith@tampabay.com.

Pier Aquarium, Vinoy, Nova offer singles a chance to mingle in something other than bar scene 08/07/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 4:09pm]
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