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Philanthropists Kate Tiedemann and Ellen Cotton give $1.5 million to Ruth Eckerd Hall

CLEARWATER — Tampa Bay area philanthropists Kate Tiedemann and Ellen Cotton have donated $1.5 million to the ongoing expansion of Ruth Eckerd Hall, president Zev Buffman announced Thursday.

The gift will fund a new 250-seat cabaret theater in the lobby where children will perform before main events. The theater, expected to begin construction in January, will be named after its donors, Buffman said.

Tiedemann and Cotton together have donated $11 million to the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and $500,000 to Metro Wellness and Community Centers. In 2016 they were named Philanthropist of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals Suncoast.

The $19 million renovation of Ruth Eckerd Hall, located at 1111 McMullen Booth Road, began two years ago with the rebuilding of the Murray Theatre and upgrading of the kitchen and heating and air conditioning system.

The next phase will focus on upgrading the main auditorium and lobby and building additional traffic lanes to improve access.

After the $1.5 million gift from Tiedemann and Cotton, Ruth Eckerd has $4 million left to raise to finish paying for the expansion.