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Orchestra finds a home at Mahaffey

The Florida Orchestra will have a permanent artistic home at the Mahaffey Theater in downtown St. Petersburg, courtesy of the Pinellas County Commission.

Commissioners voted Tuesday to dedicate $2-million in future tax revenue for a new administrative headquarters for the orchestra, allowing it to leave office space it leases in Tampa.

"It's nice to have a place to call home and fly a flag and say that's us," said orchestra executive director Leonard Stone. "Historically, the orchestra has been a gypsy."

The 10,000-square-foot headquarters will be housed in a new wing at the northeast corner of the Mahaffey, which is under renovation. It will include offices, a music library and space to store instruments. And the orchestra will rehearse in the Mahaffey.

The $3.5-million project will actually be paid for with private donations, $1.5-million from an anonymous donor and $2-million from Treasure Island businessman Bill Edwards.

Originally, Edwards had donated his money to the Mahaffey renovation, then decided he wanted it used for the orchestra building.

The city of St. Petersburg had counted on Edwards' money to help cover renovation expenses at the Pier and the Mahaffey.

So, at the urging of the city and the orchestra, the county came up with an extra $2-million to allow the orchestra to build its headquarters.

The money will come from property taxes St. Petersburg residents pay to the county in coming years.

"To have the Florida Orchestra - which has a fan base across Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee counties - is a real feather in our cap," said City Council Chairman Bill Foster. "It goes with our goal of becoming the arts center of the state."

While the orchestra will be based in St. Petersburg, it will continue to play at Ruth Eckerd Hall and the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, as well as the Mahaffey. The orchestra's new wing should be finished in late spring of 2007.

Will Van Sant can be reached at 445-4166 or vansant@spttmes.com.

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