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Clearwater, Ruth Eckerd Hall will meet again about buying Royalty Theatre

CLEARWATER — The rickety Royalty Theatre will once again be the spotlight Thursday when city leaders talk with Ruth Eckerd Hall officials about resuscitating the dying performance house.

The City Council and Ruth Eckerd Hall are in preliminary talks about partnering to buy and rehab the roughly 100-year-old building that sits near the corner of Osceola Avenue and Cleveland Street.

The two also could try to acquire the adjacent Lokey building, which hall officials would like to use for additional lobby space, concessions, rest rooms, dressing rooms and offices.

Hall board members responsible for operating and raising money for Ruth Eckerd met last Wednesday to lay out plans they want to discuss with the City Council. Here's what they'd like:

• Ruth Eckerd Hall wants to create a $5-million endowment to support the operation of the Royalty Theatre, so it won't need city funding down the road.

• The hall wants the city to pay for the two properties, roughly $2.7-million, which includes closing costs.

• The hall plans to raise $8-million ($5-million for the endowment and $3-million toward renovations and construction).

• The hall then wants to work with the city to identify $3.8-million in federal grants for the remaining renovation costs.

The City Council isn't scheduled to make a decision Thursday. But if the deal eventually is approved, plans call for hall officials to manage the theater once it's purchased.

Hall leaders also want to "immediately create excitement and interest in the theater," said Robert Freedman, president and chief executive officer of Ruth Eckerd Hall, by quickly bringing in a variety of performing arts, local artists and film events.

Over time, Royalty could be used by Ruth Eckerd Hall as an alternative venue for those acts that attract smaller, but loyal crowds. Royalty currently has 665 seats.

Once a design plan is approved, the theater will shut down for about a year, while it's renovated.

The City Council talked briefly about the purchase last week and there was some confusion over the funding and how much the city would have to ante up. City leaders eventually decided to put that step of the process to the side and focus on securing an appraisal, which is expected Monday.

Mike Donila can be reached at mdonila@sptimes.com or 445-4160.

Clearwater, Ruth Eckerd Hall will meet again about buying Royalty Theatre 08/15/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 19, 2008 3:05pm]
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