Florida Orchestra plans to ask for $2-million

Published December 14, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - The Florida Orchestra will ask the county for $2-million to fulfill its goal of building an administrative headquarters at the Mahaffey Theater.

It would be the first permanent home for the orchestra, which currently leases space in an office building in Tampa.

The 10,000-square-foot wing would adjoin the northeast corner of the Mahaffey, which is being renovated. It will house offices, a music library, instrument storage space and rehearsal rooms, according to Mayor Rick Baker, an enthusiastic supporter of the plan.

"I think it would be a wonderful thing to have the Florida Orchestra headquarters in St. Petersburg," Baker said. "It would be a great enhancement to the cultural mix we have right now."

The wing would cost about $3.5-million to build. Treasure Island businessman Bill Edwards, a member of the orchestra's board, donated $2-million for the Mahaffey renovation and is asking that the money be used for the orchestra headquarters. Private donors have agreed to give an additional $1.5-million.

Jeffrey Lyash, an orchestra board member, said the board did not want to take money away from the Mahaffey so it will ask the Pinellas County Commission to increase the funding used for the renovation by $2-million.

Lyash said the board plans to ask for the money in the next 60 days. He doesn't anticipate much opposition.

"Everyone I talked to wants to see the orchestra be in a permanent home," Lyash said. "And they want that permanent home to be in Pinellas County."

The orchestra divides its performances between St. Petersburg, Tampa and Clearwater. Vice Chairman James Gillespie said the Mahaffey was a natural fit for the headquarters because of the renovations. He said St. Petersburg also was attractive because of its commitment to the arts.

"The city has changed considerably in terms of its cultural amenities and attractions," Gillespie said.

If county commissioners agree to the plan, the St. Petersburg City Council must give its approval. Council chairman Richard Kriseman said the orchestra would be a welcome addition to the city.

"We like to think of ourselves as one of the cultural centers of the state," Kriseman said. "The orchestra would certainly be a good fit."

Carrie Johnson can be reached at 727 860-7309 or cjohnson@sptimes.com