Friday, February 23, 2018
Business

Ruth Eckerd Hall, the Club at Treasure Island prepare for legal battle

The sequined gloves are off.

Bill Edwards, who manages the Mahaffey Theater and owns the Club at Treasure Island, and a spokesman for Ruth Eckerd Hall both say their entertainment venues are ready for a heated legal battle against each other.

"We disagree with all claims. We will defend ourselves vigorously," said Eric Blankenship, Ruth Eckerd Hall's marketing director. He was referring to a lawsuit the Club at Treasure Island filed Tuesday against the Clearwater performing arts center accusing it of unfair business practices.

"We've got enough written testimony to kill them," Edwards said. "We've got enough evidence, correspondence back and forth (between Ruth Eckerd Hall and performers) to take care of it."

His club is suing for damages of more than $2 million and alleges Ruth Eckerd staffers spoke disparagingly about Edwards and his club to two performers and "strong-armed" them into backing out of shows scheduled for October and December of this year. Edwards said he could not share copies of the correspondence he has obtained because of the lawsuit.

When asked if Ruth Eckerd staffers contacted comedian Louie Anderson and actor and singer Danny Aiello, the performers at the root of the litigation, Blankenship said he couldn't comment.

Edwards said in an earlier statement that he asked his attorney to reach out privately to Ruth Eckerd Hall's board of directors, hoping the venue's staffers would stop their "bullying tactics." He noted that he was then "shocked" when Ruth Eckerd delivered a notice to preserve evidence related to the Mahaffey Theater, which is owned by the city of St. Petersburg but managed by Edwards.

"We were asked to preserve our documents first, therefore we asked them to preserve theirs," Blankenship said. "Outside of that I can't comment on any other questions at this point."

Ruth Eckerd and Edwards' company, Big 3 Entertainment, both were in the running for the contract to manage the Mahaffey. City leaders decided to go with Edwards in April 2011.

When asked how the Club at Treasure Island obtained copies of correspondence between Ruth Eckerd Hall and the performers, Edwards said it got them by talking with the artists.

Bobby Rossi, Ruth Eckerd's director of entertainment, is also named as a defendant.

"Rossi emotionally assaulted and threatened Aiello's agent regarding the consequences of Aiello's decision to contract with the Club and Edwards, instead of Ruth Eckerd," the suit alleges. "Ruth Eckerd and Rossi went so far as to recruit prominent members of the entertainment industry to assist Rossi in convincing Aiello to perform at Ruth Eckerd and not to perform at the Club."

Aiello was booked in April to perform at Edwards' club in October but canceled his contract in July, according to the suit.

Also in July there was a "reasonable probability" that the Club at Treasure Island would enter into a contract with Anderson to perform at a private show there on Dec. 1. The lawsuit states that Rossi and Ruth Eckerd told Anderson that the Club at Treasure Island and Edwards often promised private shows, but marketed them to the public without regard to any agreement that the show remain private. This statement is false and prevented the club from booking Anderson, the lawsuit states.

When the Club at Treasure Island books performers, members have the first opportunity to buy tickets, but usually some tickets are made available to the public. Its venue seats about 250 people. Ten percent of money made from ticket sales to the public is donated to All Children's Hospital.

Calls to Aiello and Anderson and their agents were not returned.

Aiello is recognizable to many as the fiance to a character Cher played in the movie Moonstruck. He also has acted in more than 50 other movies including Do the Right Thing and The Godfather: Part II.

Louie Anderson has appeared in HBO and Showtime specials, on David Letterman's and Jay Leno's shows.

Edwards said it's not an industry norm to badmouth a competing venue to performers.

"Life's too short to pressure entertainers," he said.

Times staff writer Curtis Krueger and Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.

Comments
A look at new ships and trends in cruising for 2018

A look at new ships and trends in cruising for 2018

What’s new in cruising for 2018? As usual, there’s lots of razzle-dazzle — laser tag, water slides, zip lines and massive LED screens — along with a continued emphasis on healthy lifestyle options, from dining to fitness. But there are also changes u...
Published: 02/23/18

Long awaited Clearwater Beach garage bleeds money in its first year

CLEARWATER —City leaders discussed building a parking structure on north Clearwater Beach for more than 15 years before the seven-story Pelican Walk Parking Garage finally opened at the start of 2017.The city paid $11.3 million to own 450 of the deve...
Published: 02/23/18
Administrator Haley Loeun fired from CareerSource jobs centers

Administrator Haley Loeun fired from CareerSource jobs centers

Haley Loeun, a top aide to the embattled leader of the Pinellas and Hillsborough jobs boards, was fired Thursday from her $130,000-a-year position as business services director.Loeun came under criticism after the Tampa Bay Times reported that employ...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Outback Steakhouse owner Bloomin’ Brands beats Wall Street forecasts

Outback Steakhouse owner Bloomin’ Brands beats Wall Street forecasts

TAMPA — Outback Steakhouse has been pressured to improve for awhile, but the restaurant chain isn’t cooked yet. In fact, a boost in Outback sales led its Tampa-based parent company to beat Wall Street expectations in its fourth quarter.Bloomin’ Brand...
Published: 02/22/18
Tampa Bay area’s population projected to grow to 3.1 million this year

Tampa Bay area’s population projected to grow to 3.1 million this year

TAMPA — The Tampa Bay area’s population, already the largest of any metropolitan area in the state, is projected to grow from 3 million last year to 3.1 million this year, and to 3.3 million over the next five years.That growth is expected to bring c...
Published: 02/22/18
Work finally starts on downtown St. Petersburg’s newest hotel

Work finally starts on downtown St. Petersburg’s newest hotel

ST. PETERSBURG — Nearly a decade after it was first proposed, a new boutique hotel in downtown St. Petersburg is finally under construction.Workers are preparing the foundation of the Galaxy, an 11-story, 92-room hotel at Third Avenue N and First Str...
Published: 02/22/18
Note to readers: About those annoying popups on your phones

Note to readers: About those annoying popups on your phones

Dear readers, I hope that you are able to see this and that a popup saying you’ve won a gift card hasn’t taken over your phone. We have heard from many of you that these popups are preventing you from reading our news coverage.We hate them as much as...
Published: 02/22/18
Saving trees a passion for some St. Petersburg neighborhood leaders

Saving trees a passion for some St. Petersburg neighborhood leaders

ST. PETERSBURGBeth Connor, a longtime neighborhood environmental advocate, is alarmed at what she views as the destruction of the city’s trees in the name of development.She points to at least three properties that have been scraped of trees in recen...
Published: 02/22/18
This week food fests celebrate collard greens and Jewish foods

This week food fests celebrate collard greens and Jewish foods

FIELD OF GREEN: COLLARD FESTOn Saturday you can devote your whole day to the beauty of collard greens. Well, that’s the jumping off point. Collards are the "central ingredient" at the Tampa Bay Collard Green Festival at St. Petersburg’s Historic Deuc...
Published: 02/21/18
Updated: 02/22/18
CareerSource jobs chief Edward Peachey could soon be out of work

CareerSource jobs chief Edward Peachey could soon be out of work

CLEARWATER — The heads of the Pinellas and Hillsborough jobs boards will hold emergency meetings in the coming days to consider firing president and CEO Edward Peachey. Jack Geller, board chairman of CareerSource Pinellas, and Dick Peck, chair...
Published: 02/21/18
Updated: 02/22/18