Capitol Theatre rakes in cash, raises hopes for downtown Clearwater

Clearwater officials are pleased. Ruth Eckerd's CEO has an idea to keep up momentum.
A 1933 Rolls-Royce Sedanca de Ville, a nod to Jay Leno, is parked in front of the Capitol Theatre in February. JIM DAMASKE   |   Times
A 1933 Rolls-Royce Sedanca de Ville, a nod to Jay Leno, is parked in front of the Capitol Theatre in February.JIM DAMASKE | Times
Published June 12 2014

CLEARWATER — The first financial report is in, and the numbers look good for the Capitol Theatre, downtown's latest, greatest hope.

Whether the successful beginning for the 750-seat venue will spark a wider downtown revival remains an open question.

After expenses, the theater raked in $170,426, more than $122,000 over internal projections, according to a recent report from Ruth Eckerd Hall, which operates the Capitol.

The period covers revenues and expenditures from the theater's grand opening on Dec. 18 through March.

The numbers please city officials. The city owns the theater and directed nearly $11 million in county and state funding to restore the battered movie house in hopes of revitalizing downtown.

"It's been a win for all of us," said City Manager Bill Horne.

The Capitol is a "destination" for people who might otherwise never venture to the corner of Cleveland Street and Osceola Avenue. And, anecdotally, the lure has worked, Horne said.

"They've expressed no hesitation to come back into downtown for future events," he said.

At least one established business owner has seen receipts explode since the Capitol opened.

"It's had a big impact. Huge," said Tony Starova, owner of Tony's Pizzeria & Ristorante and the adjacent Capitol Beer House. Starova times his live music at his bar to start when the show ends at the Capitol. And Capitol patrons throng his businesses before the show, too, he said. "They fill up the restaurant, basically."

But there hasn't been a rush of new businesses along Cleveland Street.

All in good time, said Zev Buffman, Ruth Eckerd Hall's CEO.

A new parking garage will help. Buffman says he thinks a garage near the Bank of America building would attract more restaurants and other business to the Cleveland Street district.

Eventually, two downtown parking garages will be needed, Buffman said, but it's important to build one quickly.

"If we wait for five years that will be too late," he said.

High-profile acts like Jay Leno and B.B. King helped propel the theater in its first 3 ½ months. Revenues from more than four dozen shows totaled over $1.8 million.

But the charm of a restored theater that first opened in 1921 played a big role, too, Buffman said.

"The old cliche that you only get one chance at a first impression is very true," he said. "If the acoustics stink, you're down for the count. If the seats are uncomfortable, you're down for the count."

Under an operating agreement with the city, Ruth Eckerd Hall is required to provide quarterly revenue reports. The next report is due in August.

Charlie Frago can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4159. Follow @CharlieFrago on Twitter.