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A major-league orchestra

A familiar tune is playing over the communities of Tampa Bay, and it is not a pleasant one.

The area's top-notch Florida Orchestra is struggling under heavy debt, contributions are down and musicians haven't received their full paychecks since the orchestra's 25th anniversary season began last month. They continue to perform, even while some wonder whether their landlords will understand when the rent is late again.

The orchestra board of trustees and management, trying to tackle last season's $500,000 deficit and a $3-million total debt, ponder options that should be unacceptable: scaling back performances, cutting musicians, or worse.

A bright note is that audiences at the orchestra's three venues _ St. Petersburg, Tampa and Clearwater _ remain sizable. Yet increased ticket sales can't make up for the economy-driven drop in monetary support from individuals, corporations and government sources.

As the region faces the challenge of sustaining its talented orchestra, savvy people who make their livings and their lives here should contemplate what the lossof such a cultural resource would mean.

Tampa Bay may be close to welcoming a major-league baseball team to its domed stadium. Every other major-league city in the country has access to at least one high-caliber orchestra. Employers and employees take such factors into account when they choose places to relocate, and musical presence has a significant bearing on tourism as well. Downgrading the orchestra would have a significant impact on the region's appeal, and therefore its growth.

Next week, the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau will consider a proposal to use tourism taxes to pay for a Pinellas County contribution to the orchestra. This welcomed proposal for $100,000 is a reasonable one, considering Pinellas benefits in two locations from the orchestra, and it should be approved.

Economically stretched local and state governments cannot be expected to bail out the orchestra on their own, though. The Florida Orchestra is a major-league asset in the community. It deserves serious support from all corners, corporate and individual citizens alike.

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