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Florida Orchestra gets a special gift

The Florida Orchestra, whose finances are routinely precarious, has received a million-dollar boost from a Tampa businessman and philanthropist.

The John H. Sykes Foundation gave the orchestra nearly $1.2-million, one of the largest contributions in the orchestra's history.

"It's a wonderful gift, a large gift and the timing couldn't be better," executive director Leonard D. Stone said.

In late October, the orchestra reported a $676,615 operating deficit - its third shortfall in five years. Then last week, a preliminary estimate to build the orchestra headquarters at the Mahaffey Theater came in $1-million over budget.

Stone said none of the money will go toward the new headquarters. Instead, the orchestra will use $1-million to pay salaries, benefits, artists and rental fees and other expenses. The rest of the donation, $163,000, will go to the orchestra's endowment fund.

Sykes, founder of Sykes Enterprises, a Tampa technical help and customer support provider, could not be reached for comment.

In a prepared statement, wife Susan said: "The Florida Orchestra is a major cultural and educational force in Tampa Bay, and we are proud to make this contribution. We hope this action inspires others to join in and match this gift."

This isn't the first time Sykes has donated big. In 1997, he gave the University of Tampa $10-million to build a business school named after him. He topped that gift in 2000 with an additional $28-million, thought to be the largest single gift to a Florida university at the time.

Rodney Thrash can be reached at (727) 893-8352 or rthrash@sptimes.com.

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