Despite a selection committee favoring the OVG360 and Vinik Sports Group to manage the new Clearwater amphitheater, the city ultimately selected Ruth Eckerd Hall.
On Thursday, the city council voted 3 to 2 to start negotiations with Ruth Eckerd Hall, which has deep roots in the community as it runs the city-owned entertainment venue, and the Capitol Theater across town.
The amphitheater will anchor the 22-acre Imagine Clearwater development, transforming Coachman Park, and is slated to open in July 2023.
The city received submittals from several groups seeking to manage the upcoming 4,000-seat venue. Those pursuing the opportunity include Ruth Eckerd Hall, OVG360 and Just Imagine LLC, which includes a team from Event Live and the group behind the marketing events for the St. Pete Pier District. The city eliminated the proposal from Just Imagine LLC, narrowing the selection down to two.
The selected managing group would be responsible for producing events, programming, staffing the venue and booking talent, as well as providing concessions, among other duties. The city will operate the rest of the waterfront park, according to city documents.
The city has received letters from individuals opposed and in support of both potential management groups. The concerns raised questioned limited opportunities for local performers and the finances.
“All due respect, the current conclusion that we are the less qualified operator is also incorrect,” Ruth Eckerd Hall President and CEO Susan Crockett said during the meeting. “While this would be our first managing contract for an amphitheater, clearly, the fact that we have turned parking lots, city parks, beaches and a driving range into amphitheaters hosting concerts of 6,000 plus attendance demonstrates the exceptional operational capacity and logistical competence to manage this contract.”
In REH’s proposal, it emphasized its long history in the local community and its robust 200-plus team, including its 350 volunteers, 3,500 donors and its board of directors.
REH says it would base the programming for the new Clearwater amphitheater on a comparable venue, St. Augustine Amphitheater, which currently holds 80 events annually, including 60 in-house presentations. REH estimates 45 events in the first 12 months, with a potential to grow to 85 events by year five.
REH presentations will comprise approximately 40% of events and the growth of the in-house programming will depend on operator costs and owner expectations. REH plans to extend its co-presentations with The Florida Orchestra for themed evenings. The facility will be available to rent. It will also serve the educational programs REH provides.