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City renews Edwards’ Mahaffey contract; parking issues ‘complex’

Bill DeYoung



Bill Edwards exhibited this artist rendering of the proposed new entrance for the Mahaffey Theater. ARC3 Architecture.

After 10 successful years, it was perhaps a foregone conclusion that Big3 Entertainment’s contract with the City of St. Petersburg, for management of the Mahaffey Theater, would be renewed.

Big3 CEO Bill Edwards was in chambers for Thursday’s unanimous vote, with councilmember Lisa Wheeler-Bowman absent. Edwards’ company began running the city-owned Mahaffey in 2011; this was Big3’s second five-year-extension.

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.

Over the years, he has pumped millions of dollars of his own money into renovations and improvements at the 56-year-old theater.

Under the revised terms of the contract, Big3 will receive an annual management fee of $300,000 (up from $250,000 under the previous contract), an annual capital contribution of $400,000 (unchanged) and an incentive fee of $200,000 annually, up from $150,000. “That’s based on what we call bringing ‘top acts’ to the theater,” explained City Director of Development Chris Ballestra.

Bill Edwards spoke in front of St. Petersburg City Council Thursday. Screen grab.

After thanking the city and the council members, Edwards screened a five-minute video extolling the virtues of the 2,100-seat venue and its growing importance to the city.

He then proposed a new entrance to the Mahaffey, connected directly to 5th Avenue South, which would mean, for visitors, a direct line from the Interstate 175.

Because the theater was originally designed and built as an annex of the Bayfront Center arena, which was demolished in 2004, its front doors are on the side, facing south and away from the parking lot (there was, many years ago, a west-facing central entrance for both the arena and the theater).

“The bottom line is, we don’t have an entrance,” Edwards said. “If it’s raining, you’re going to get wet. There’s no way I can stop you getting wet because there’s nothing over your head.”

He explained that he first brought this entrance proposal to the city in 2018, and that it has essentially fallen on deaf ears. “So what I’m saying is, I’d like to have this contract, but I’d also like to see all our neighbors talk to each other. There’s a disconnect in the neighborhood, of people who are trying to get things accomplished, but we don’t talk to each other. There’s no conversation.”

Edwards was apparently referring to management at the neighboring Salvador Dali Museum, which withdrew plans for a $42 million expansion last month; museum director Hank Hine expressing frustration and concern about the delay.

Some of the space – a section of the west-side parking area – outlined in Edwards’ proposal conflicts with the expressed needs of the Dali expansion.

And the annual Firestone Grand Prix auto race would be adversely affected by structural changes in the area.

Ballestra referred to the theater/museum area, which is on 1st Street South between Al Lang Field and Albert Whitted Airport, as the Center for the Arts. “To call the entire physical asset complex,” he declared, “is an understatement.”

Councilmember Gina Driscoll inquired about parking problems as both the Dali and the Mahaffey expand – their parking lots are adjacent, and they share a five-level garage. The lots are also utilized by the Grand Prix during its springtime visits.

“We’re talking about a small space, with three giants sharing it,” she said.

“This parking thing really needs to be worked out, so that it’s a win, win, win for everyone.”

The Mahaffey Theater. Photo provided.




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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Suzette Posada, Esq.

    September 10, 2021at2:47 pm

    I have multiple sclerosis and I absolutely love going to the theater when I see a show I would like to experience, Mr, Edwards!
    I try to join the membership when I can I will do that very soon!

    Sincerely yours,


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