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Estimates for orchestra's home are over budget

A preliminary estimate to build the Florida Orchestra headquarters at the Mahaffey Theater came in about $1-million over budget, leaving the project's future uncertain.

The initial estimate was $3-million. The latest is just over $4-million.

Beth Herendeen, assistant director of the downtown enterprise facilities department, emphasized that the estimate is not final. The city and the orchestra will go over the numbers and come up with options on how to proceed.

"It's obviously a significant increase, but I would say it is too soon to tell what the final amount will be and what action we'll take," said Herendeen, who takes over as director of the department later this month.

James Gillespie, chairman of the Florida Orchestra board of trustees, said Friday that one possible option is for the orchestra to commit to raising the additional money.

"It's a challenging option, but it's an option," he said.

Neither Herendeen nor Gillespie could say when a final decision would be made. The orchestra has a lease through December 2007 in an office complex in Tampa.

Under current plans, the 10,000-square-foot headquarters would be housed in a new wing at the northeast corner of the Mahaffey, which was recently renovated. It is to include offices, a music library and space to store instruments.

While the city owns the Mahaffey and would be in charge of construction, the orchestra and Pinellas County had pledged to pay for the new wing.

The project, which was proposed in the summer last year, has traveled a twisted path toward funding.

At first, the project was to be paid for by $1.5-million from an anonymous donor and $2-million from Treasure Island businessman Bill Edwards.

But Edwards donated his money to the Mahaffey renovation instead.

So at the urging of the city and the orchestra, Pinellas County commissioners voted in February to come up with an extra $2-million to help the orchestra build its headquarters. The money will come from property taxes St. Petersburg residents pay to the county in coming years.

The headquarters and a $20-million renovation to Mahaffey Theater are part an ongoing effort by the city to create an anchor for the arts and other activity in downtown St. Petersburg.

The effort includes a new terminal at nearby Albert Whitted Airport, a proposed new home for the Salvador Dali Museum across a plaza from the Mahaffey and a waterfront park.