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Clearwater officials are okay with exterior balcony for Capitol Theatre

CLEARWATER — Now that downtown's Capitol Theatre is about to be renovated, those in charge of it want to add just one more thing: an exterior second-floor balcony where people can sit outside and socialize.

On Thursday night, City Council members said okay, but the approval is just for the historic theater. They aren't eager to see second-floor balconies cropping up on businesses all over Clearwater.

Ruth Eckerd Hall, which operates the city-owned theater, is about to start a major renovation and expansion of the Capitol that will take most of next year.

At this point, there's been no official request for a balcony at the Capitol. In order to allow it, the city will have to make a change to its land-use codes. The balcony idea will have to traverse the city's bureaucracy before it can become a reality.

But city staffers first wanted to make sure the City Council would even entertain the idea of a balcony.

The balcony would wrap around the corner of Cleveland Street and further south down Osceola Avenue. Most council members didn't have a problem with it, although they want to make sure that supporting pillars underneath the balcony won't block the sidewalk.

"I think it's fabulous," said council member Doreen Hock-DiPolito.

One concern is that other Clearwater businesses might want balconies too — particularly on Clearwater Beach, where property is at a premium.

"We've been asked to have this on the beach," said city Planning Director Michael Delk. "If anything is allowed, it will be attempted on the beach — where we have constricted rights-of-way, where we have limited sidewalk area."

With that in mind, the council is likely to allow a balcony only at the Capitol.

Council member Bill Jonson opposed the balcony, saying it would change the nature of the historic building too much. But other council members thought the balcony could make a nice gathering spot during downtown events.

The council was confused by a rendering that Ruth Eckerd provided to the city and the Tampa Bay Times. The drawing is not done to scale and makes it appear as if only a few people could gather on the balcony.

In reality, the proposed balcony would be 8 feet wide and would hold a standing capacity of 180 people, said Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Dunbar, who's been communicating with Ruth Eckerd Hall. Another 170 could gather on a rooftop terrace.

The balcony would be 10 feet above ground, with a six-foot-wide walkway between its supporting pillars and the Capitol Theatre's exterior wall.

"It's still a work in progress," Dunbar said.

For decades a cinema and playhouse, the Capitol Theatre was closed when the city bought it and handed it over to Ruth Eckerd Hall. Since it reopened under Ruth Eckerd's management, it has seen record-breaking growth, with more than 100 events a year, including sold-out shows.

The $7 million renovation will merge the theater with two smaller buildings on either side of it and expand the seating from 485 to nearly 750.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Clearwater officials are okay with exterior balcony for Capitol Theatre 11/17/12 [Last modified: Saturday, November 17, 2012 1:36pm]
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