St. Petersburg businessman Bill Edwards envisions the Mahaffey Theater and other city art and cultural institutions having more accessibility and visibility in the future.
Edwards, the founder of Mortgage Investors Corporation, owns numerous properties in the area, including the Sundial Shopping Plaza and the Treasure Island Tennis & Yacht Club. Edwards also operates the city-owned Mahaffey and has pumped millions into it over the years.
He explained how the 2,100-seat theater hit shaky ground during the Covid-19 pandemic, but he is eager and determined to get it on solid footing.
“We’ve had 10 years of building the theater to where it is today. We are proud of it. We are coming out of the pandemic, and good lord willing, if everything stays the same, we will be fine,” Edwards said.
He is planning to give the theater a major facelift.
“I’d like to move the entrance to the front of the building, where it belongs. Off 5th Street where you come off the freeway, it is the perfect entrance alongside the parking garage. We could clad the parking garage and make it look attractive,” he said.
The new entrance would also have an overhead covering to protect attendees entering the theater.
The new planned entrance does interfere with The Dali’s $42 million expansion plan; however, Edwards said he is going to work with the museum about solving the potential issues.
Internally, Edwards would also like to see improvements to the backstage area, as the Mahaffey doesn’t have ample capacity to handle the multiple, large truckloads of equipment that accompany traveling acts.
“We had Christina Aguilera [perform here] and she brought 12 truckloads of equipment because she just left another arena. We couldn’t fit it all backstage. Every two songs, we had a set change. It was quite a masterpiece for my guys to pull that off. There was a lot of stuff on the ceiling – we need more reinforcement on the ceiling,” he said.
Additionally, the theater also stores equipment used by The Florida Orchestra, which performs there on Saturday nights during its October-to-May season.
Edwards said that enhancing the theater is imperative, and must happen now.
“Now is the time to get prepared to make up for the lost time, lost money,” he said.
Pre-pandemic, he said 250,000 people visited the Mahaffey annually, and he can see that same level of activity returning.
The city recently renewed Edwards’ contract for a five-year term.
“I want the five years. I moved my office over there, I spend time working with [General Manager] Joe Santiago and the city to make sure we put the time and energy into building the Mahaffey that when I’m gone, it’ll still be much better than when we walked in,” he said.
Edwards said he also hopes the connectivity between the art and cultural institutions will improve on a grander scale.
“This would be a good time to take what I call the downtown arts district – the Dali, Mahaffey, and everything in between – and connect it as Beach Drive is a disconnect. “We are all working together, including the Grand Prix, to create a downtown arts district.”