When Kevin Preast came to Amalie Arena in early 2016, his bosses issued a challenge:
Make Tampa matter. Make this a first-run, must-play market for any artist going on tour. Turn Amalie Arena into one of the top 10 concert venues in the country.
Oh, and one more thing: Book Paul McCartney.
"It was a conversation we had quickly when I got to Tampa," said Preast, the arena's senior vice president of event management. "There's only one Paul McCartney. Not everyone was a Beatle."
At long last, it's happening. The once and forever Cute One on Tuesday announced he'll perform at Amalie Arena on July 10, his first Tampa concert in 12 years. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Monday, with a limited number starting at the egalitarian price of $31.25 and others going up to $251.25. The show is expected to sell out quickly.
McCartney, 74, is the latest prize booking for Amalie Arena, which has ramped up its A-list concert schedule over the past year-plus, snagging acts like Barbra Streisand, Ed Sheeran and Tom Petty as part of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's desire to turn the city's Channel District into a bustling, Metropolis-like hub.
"He's one of the best performers of all time, and we're happy to have him here," Vinik said. "That's what we're doing here with this building. This organization is all about the community and sharing with the community. It's not just hockey, it's also events. We couldn't be more pleased."
Despite a career that stretches back to the '50s, this will be only McCartney's fourth performance in Tampa.
The Beatles and Wings never made it here. McCartney's first local show came at Tampa Stadium in 1990, a performance that sold all 60,000 tickets within hours. It would be a dozen years before his return to what is now Amalie Arena in 2002, then three more until a gig at the same building in 2005 — a show that made headlines after McCartney briefly tumbled through a pit in the stage. He played two shows in Orlando in 2013, and one in Jacksonville in 2014.
Getting McCartney back to Tampa has been a yearslong effort, said John Valentino, senior vice president of AEG Presents, which is co-promoting the show. The arena was actually in talks to host him last fall, but the tour routing didn't work out.
"Booking any tour is a challenge," Valentino said, "but when it comes to Paul McCartney, who can play anywhere he wants in the entire world, it's especially challenging."
It starts, Valentino said, with McCartney telling his managers he wants to play some shows. They lay out "three or four options, and Paul decides what he wants to do," Valentino said. "He's very hands-on, from what I know."
The low-end ticket price of $31.25 is one way McCartney and his promoters ensure they can reach the widest audience possible.
"There's very few available," Valentino said, "but any budget can afford a ticket to this show."
Booking McCartney, Preast said, becomes yet another facet in his conversations with agents about why major artists can't skip Tampa on tour.
"The Weeknd, Tom Petty, Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand — being able to say that our market can support any type of artist at the highest level, that's what makes us a must-play market," he said.
Arena officials are prepared for an onslaught of ticket requests. Unlike 2005, when more than 18,000 fans packed in for McCartney in Tampa, Preast expects seating for this show to be closer to 14,000 — and only a percentage of those will be available to the general public, thanks to an array of advance sales by entities like American Express and McCartney's website.
"This is a tough ticket," said Vinik, who, despite being a former director of the English Premiere League team Liverpool FC, has never crossed paths with McCartney. "We kind of knew this was going to happen, so we've got some already."
"I think we're used to it now, because we always get asked for playoff tickets," added his wife, Penny Vinik. "We've got our defenses up."
One question looms after Tuesday's announcement: Is one concert all Tampa's getting?
Maybe. Maybe not.
McCartney announced one other Florida show, July 5 at Miami's AmericanAirlines Arena. His calendar is blank between then and July 10, leaving room to add extra shows in either city, or elsewhere, if desired. Amalie Arena is hosting Rod Stewart on July 8 and Pink Floyd's Roger Waters on July 11, but Sunday, July 9, is wide open.
"I don't think it's unreasonable to think that it could happen," Preast said. "If the market responds, it puts me in a position to have that conversation. If the market doesn't respond, it kind of closes the door."
Either way, Preast said, Tampa's mini-British Invasion — Stewart, McCartney and Waters in four days — will be yet another special stretch for Amalie Arena.
"These are all major, major acts," he said. "It'll be an intense four days for us and our team, but it'll be a great four days for the city."
Contact Jay Cridlin at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.