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Dome may be half full for gala

ST. PETERSBURG - With just over two weeks remaining before the grand opening gala at the Florida Suncoast Dome, promoters are about 20,000 seats shy of a sellout. But officials said Tuesday they are confident an advertising blitz this month will help sell at least 9,000 more seats needed for the event to break even.

The gala, scheduled for March 3, will feature musical numbers by more than 4,000 amateur performers, a concert by Kenny Rogers, laser light shows, fireworks, and water displays.

Capacity for the event is about 30,000 seats. A committee overseeing the grand opening ceremonies found out Tuesday that about 11,000 tickets have been sold. The gala must draw about 20,000 people for it to fall within the $822,000 grand opening budget, said City Council member Robert Stewart, who heads the committee.

"I think we'll do it, but it isn't going to be easy," Stewart said. "The good news is that all of the $30 seats have been sold."

Those are the most expensive ones. The lesser seats cost $15, $20 and $25.

"I think we're all right," said Bob Rose, who oversees marketing and public relations for the stadium. "We're going to have to go hard down the stretch to sell it out. (But) it's not at all unusual that in a two- or three-week period, you can sell those events out."

Officials have acknowledged that ticket sales for the gala have been lagging because of other grand opening events for the stadium, including a free open house the following day.

The Sunday open house will feature entertainment on four stages outside the stadium and three inside. The outside acts include performances by several local bands, dance groups, mimes and jugglers.

Inside, the Jack Golly Orchestra will play on a center stage, followed by acts on side stage that include barbershop singers, square dancers, Mexican folk dancers, and an oriental drum group.

Another area on the stadium floor will feature athletic demonstrations by members of the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team, the Orlando Magic basketball team, and tennis and gymnastics professionals.

Two nationally recognized entertainers also will perform; they will be announced next week.

In addition to the open house, the grand opening also will be marked by a formal, invitation-only dinner on Feb. 28, the Governor's Baseball Dinner on March 1, a concert by Billy Joel on March 6, and a March 3 bike tour through the city.

In related developments Tuesday, stadium general manager Jerry Oliver told committee members that the dome would be complete for the grand opening, except for some unfinished meeting rooms along the centerfield wall and a portion of the parking lot where contaminants were removed.