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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.

Ruth Eckerd Hall, the Club at Treasure Island prepare for legal battle 08/15/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 16, 2012 12:05am]
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