CLEARWATER —When Ruth Eckerd Hall officials announced last month that they named the new city-owned downtown waterfront amphitheater “The Sound,” City Council members were taken aback.
Neither the council nor city administrators had signed off on the name, despite a provision in the hall’s management contract that requires city approval, City Manager Jennifer Poirrier confirmed Tuesday.
Officials for the performing arts nonprofit gave three high-level city staff members a presentation on the name on Jan. 19, according to leaders from both organizations. But the briefing came during a period of turmoil and administrative changes in Clearwater city government, leading to a major miscommunication.
The misstep has impacted efforts by a city consultant, Superlative Group, who in February began shopping the rights for a sponsor to have their name on the amphitheater.
While some potential sponsors are happy to have their name intertwined with the permanent title The Sound, others are not, City Attorney David Margolis told the council at a meeting last week.
But because the amphitheater name had already been announced on March 8 to widespread media coverage, council members agreed it would be more damaging to reverse the decision now. They instructed Margolis to tell Superlative Group it had to shop the naming rights with The Sound included, though they worried how it could impact potential revenue.
“I wish they could go out and ensure us, guarantee us, that they would get the maximum price of return for us on those naming rights,” council member Kathleen Beckman said. But she added the city will never know what revenue it could have received.
Poirrier said Tuesday she determined that any future decision related to the amphitheater that requires city approval must be given to Ruth Eckerd Hall in writing.
“This was a thing with a lot of assumptions about what took place, which unfortunately did not,” she said. “What I’m focusing on as this unraveled was how do we move forward, how do we prevent something like this from happening again?”
When completed, the amphitheater will have 4,000 covered seats with lawn space for another 5,000 people, part of the $84 million renovation of the downtown waterfront that will also include a garden, gateway plaza, playground and bluff walk.
Negotiations for the contract for Ruth Eckerd Hall to manage the music venue began last May under former City Manager Jon Jennings.
The agreement, approved by the council in December, gave the organization responsibilities such as booking and operating events, managing food and beverage service and handling staffing.
The agreement also tasked the organization with developing the venue’s branding and a “mutually agreed upon” name ahead of the grand opening this June.
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The nonprofit conducted a “three month branding process with city input to create a name,” as outlined in the contract, Ruth Eckerd Hall CEO Susan M. Crockett said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times.
It was during this period, on Jan. 5, that the council fired Jennings and appointed Poirrier to serve as interim city manager. The council named her city manager on March 2.
In a phone interview on Monday, Jennings confirmed he spoke with Ruth Eckerd Hall about the branding process last year. But he said he never heard the title “The Sound” and did not approve any name before his termination.
Crockett said she presented information about The Sound on Jan. 13 to then-Parks and Recreation Director Jim Halios, who told her he would present the name to the council members privately.
Crockett met on Jan. 19 with Halios, Poirrier and Public Communications Director Joelle Castelli and gave a PowerPoint presentation of the brand strategy for The Sound. Poirrier said she interpreted the meeting to be about branding the venue’s experience as The Sound, not naming the city’s infrastructure.
The next day, Halios submitted his resignation to take effect Feb. 10. All five council members in office at the time said they did not hear The Sound name until Ruth Eckerd announced it on March 8. Halios could not be reached for comment for this story.
“Both partners acted in good faith that there was mutual agreement on the brand and name,” Crockett said. “We have no doubt that both partners in this venture want this venue to be successful.”
The city first hired Superlative Group in March 2022 to value the future assets within the amphitheater and renewed Coachman Park.
The consultant estimated the city could get $325,000 to $400,000 per year for the amphitheater naming rights. With other sponsorship opportunities within the music venue and park, the consultant said the city could see $1.7 million per year in revenue. The council voted in February to allow Superlative Group to begin shopping the sponsorships, which will require council approval.