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Here are the finalists bidding to run downtown Clearwater’s amphitheater

Details of their proposals, including ideas for events, will become public next week.
Construction is underway at the site of Imagine Clearwater, the city's $84 million makeover of the downtown waterfront and Coachman Park.
Construction is underway at the site of Imagine Clearwater, the city's $84 million makeover of the downtown waterfront and Coachman Park. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]
Published Apr. 22|Updated Apr. 22

In selecting an organization to run Clearwater’s future waterfront amphitheater, the city has a choice between its longtime performing arts partner and a global entertainment venue developer with a local tie.

On Tuesday, a city staff committee will interview two finalists who bid on the chance to manage the 4,000-seat covered amphitheater now under construction in the $84 million Coachman Park redevelopment, the city’s most ambitious attempt in decades to revitalize the struggling downtown.

One finalist is Ruth Eckerd Hall, the Clearwater-based nonprofit that has operated the city-owned performing arts facility on McMullen Booth Road for 40 years. It has booked international acts while also promoting its focus on youth arts education.

The other is OVG360, a division of Oak View Group, a Los Angeles-based global sports and entertainment company formed in 2015 by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame music manager Irving Azoff and national sports and music executive Tim Leiweke.

For its Clearwater proposal, the Oak View Group partnered with Tampa-based Vinik Sports Group, which owns the Tampa Bay Lightning and manages Amalie Arena and the University of South Florida’s Yuengling Center.

However, details of what the finalists submitted about how they would run the future downtown venue, including any revenue projections or their visions for programming, are still confidential.

Citing state law, Clearwater procurement manager Lori Vogel said she will release the responses when the committee selects a finalist, or on April 29, which will be 30 days after the bidding period, whichever comes first.

The City Council is expected to vote on the committee’s recommendation in May.

The most current rendering of Imagine Clearwater with the amphitheater on the north side of the park.
The most current rendering of Imagine Clearwater with the amphitheater on the north side of the park. [ City of Clearwater ]

The selection committee is made up of City Manager Jon Jennings, community redevelopment agency director Amanda Thompson, finance director Jay Ravins, parks and recreation director James Halios, and parks senior manager Kristopher Koch.

A third firm submitted a proposal but was not invited by the committee to interview. That applicant was a collaboration between Tampa-based Big City Events and Gasparilla Music Foundation, according to foundation executive director David Cox.

In its solicitation published in February, the city sought firms to manage year-round amphitheater operations in the soon-to-be-revitalized Coachman Park. The city said the chosen company will work independently to book talent; produce and market events; staff the venue; and provide concessions, security and vendors.

Besides the entertainment venue, the 22-acre park will include a garden, playground, gateway plaza and bluff walk trail. City officials expect construction on the project, called Imagine Clearwater, to be completed in summer 2023.

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Oak View Group has developed venues across the U.S. and internationally, including the Climate Pledge Arena at Seattle Center; UBS Arena in Belmont Park, N.Y.; Moody Center in Austin, Texas; New Arena in Coachella Valley, Calif.; and Co-op Live in Manchester, U.K., according to its website.

Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is also partnering on the $3.5 billion Water Street Tampa development outside of Amelie Arena, although that endeavor is separate from his Vinik Sports Group, which is involved in the Clearwater proposal.

“We thought working together here with (Vinik Sports Group’s) commitment to the region and (Oak View Group’s) global expertise, it’s a great opportunity for us to step in and help Clearwater with the amphitheater they are about to build,” said Steve Griggs, CEO of Vinik Sports Group.

Ruth Eckerd Hall has had a long-standing interest in the downtown waterfront redevelopment project.

Along with the facility on McMullen-Booth Road, Ruth Eckerd Hall operates the city-owned Nancy and David Bilheimer Capitol Theatre on Cleveland Street and for years has hosted concerts in the old Coachman Park.

The Imagine Clearwater concept finalized in 2017 proposed only a simple, uncovered bandshell for concerts and events, similar to what had existed in the park for years.

Ruth Eckerd Hall’s then-CEO Zev Buffman pushed the council to consider building an amphitheater with covering over at least 4,000 seats to attract larger acts and become a regional draw. The council voted in 2019 to amend the park’s design to replace the uncovered bandshell with the boutique amphitheater.

Current CEO Susan Crockett said the nonprofit’s decades of local collaboration and “national reputation for excellence in our industry” makes it uniquely qualified to manage the Coachman Park amphitheater.

“Ruth Eckerd Hall is deeply rooted here and best situated of any operator for community immersion, especially through the new opportunities the venue brings,” Crockett said.

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