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St. Petersburg looks to do better with Dome

Exhibition basketball and arena football. A home-and-garden show. And a car sale.

They all have been to the Florida Suncoast Dome in the past few months.

But since Michael Bolton left last July, Dome manager Russ Cline has attracted no major musical acts. This week, Cline left, too.

With tough economic times for big stadiums and the entertainment industry, increasing city subsidies for the Dome and no signs of baseball, will the Dome do better under the city's own management?

"With no concerts this year at the Dome, I don't see how it could get any worse," said Robert Leighton, the city's downtown facilities director. "We'll set goals to do better and work as hard as we can to reach them."

Leighton, who has a background in stadium and convention center management, will take over Cline's management responsibilities at the Dome and Bayfront Center, city officials said after the Kansas City, Mo.-based manager announced his resignation Thursday.

Cline, who said he had lost the confidence of the City Council and the community, will turn over his responsibilities for the two facilities to the city by the end of September, at the latest.

Officials awaited word from Mayor David Fischer, who was out of the city Friday, about long-term plans for management of the Dome and Bayfront Center. City Council chairman Robert Stewart said he doesn't believe the city will run the facilities for long.

At least for now, though, city officials will do it themselves.

Across the country, there's no rule for how to manage a stadium or arena.

A 1991 survey showed that stadiums nearly the size of the Dome's 43,000 seats were run by governing bodies and private management companies as well as universities, corporations and non-profit organizations, said Don Hancock, professional development manager for a 1,600-member, Texas-based trade association for arenas and stadiums.

"It's a very competitive area," Hancock said. "National companies sometimes do have an advantage because of the strength of their financial resources."

At least one major, private management company expressed interest Friday in running the Dome.

Spectacor, a Philadelphia-based sports, entertainment, communications and security company that manages arenas across the country, plans to talk to city officials about the possibilities, said Sims Hinds, vice president of sales.

"The trend in the last three years has been to go from public to private management," Hinds said. Still, he said, his company would be up against the same tough conditions Cline faced.

"The last two years have not been two of the concert industry's better years," he said. "There are signs that things are coming back in the fall and winter, though, at least in the Northeast."

Leighton said he will depend on creativity.

"It's the person that sits in the chair," said Leighton, who has promoted and managed facilities in Long Island, N.Y., and Orlando. "Obviously, I'm going to be faced with the same challenges Russ had," he said.

"You end up having to be creative and you have to try to take advantage of every opportunity," Leighton said. "We'll fill the void with other types of events."

Hancock agreed with that idea. He suggested alternatives to big name bands, such as rock 'n' roll revivals, Christmas concerts, indoor amusement parks, flea markets and boat shows.

No matter what, he said, it won't be easy.

"A baseball stadium is a particular animal that is usually used for baseball games," Hancock said. "Most stadiums designed and built as baseball stadiums have baseball teams in them. I don't know if there is a lot of success around the country of producing other revenue sources for baseball stadiums."

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