Several local groups are tossing their hats in the ring to manage the amphitheater that will anchor the 22-acre Imagine Clearwater development.
The city has received submittals from several groups seeking to manage the upcoming 4,000-seat venue. Those pursuing the opportunity include Ruth Eckerd Hall, which operates the Clearwater-owned performing arts facility, along with he Capitol Theater and the Murray Theatre; OVG360, a division of Oak View Group that is partnering with Tampa-based Vinik Sports Group, which owns the Tampa Bay Lightning; and an entity called Just Imagine LLC, which includes a team from Event Live and the group behind the marketing events for the St. Pete Pier District.
The managing group selected by the city 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.
These are the highlights of proposals submitted to the city
The team: Steve Griggs, CEO of the Tampa Bay Lightning; Peter Luukko, co-chairman of the OVG Arena Alliance; Kevin Preast, chief venue officer at the Vinik Sports Group; and Doug Higgons, senior vice president of OVG Facilities.
About the group and plans for the amphitheater: OVG360 is the largest developer of sports and entertainment facilities in the world with over $5.3 billion in capital currently deployed, according to its proposal. OVG360 is led by Tim Leiweke, president of the Oak View Group and the former president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, and Irving Azoff, a music industry mogul. The group wants to establish Clearwater as an international art and music destination. OVG360 would partner with the world’s largest events promoter, Live Nation. It would also have bountiful booking and marketing power through the Vinik Sports Group, which the Tampa Bay Lightning email database alone has over 520,000 subscribers. “VSG/Tampa Lighting is the premier entertainment company in the Tampa Bay/St. Pete/Clearwater marketing place. Its marketing prowess in the region will be the patrons of CPA [Coachman Park Amphitheater] who would not otherwise make the drive to Clearwater,” the group wrote. OVG360 would partner with the Florida Symphony [sic] to create an international orchestra festival. In addition, OVG360 will work closely with all national, regional, and local promoters such as AEG Live. The group said it remains committed to keeping the venue available for all promoters.
Food and beverage: The proposal mentions food trucks as food and beverage providers.
How the team will confront issues: With a bustling park and venue and increased sound, traffic and crowds will occur, but OVG360 plans to work and strategize with its neighbor as well as local government officials to build a great working rapport, which will help mitigate the city’s sound, traffic and crowd concerns.
The team: The Just Imagine team consists of professionals from Event Live, which has provided its ticketing technology to events such as Ribfest and Reggae Rise Up. The team also consists of the group behind the marketing for events at the St. Pete Pier District. The executives that make up the team include David Cox, the founder and Executive Director of the Gasparilla Music Foundation, which produces the annual Gasparilla Music Festival in Downtown Tampa; Ferdian Jap, a partner at Big City Events LLC, Zukku Sushi LLC and Pier Events LLC; Ryan Waier, owner of Event Live and partner at Pier Events; Monica Varner, a partner at Big City Events and Pier Events.
About the group and plans for the amphitheater: Just Imagine’s proposal paints a picture of a venue that is always activated whether it’s by the national and local talent performing on stage, or becoming the site of community events, gatherings, and farmers’ markets – and also could serve as an educational venue. “To promote Imagine Clearwater as the central gathering place for the city, our team will operate the venue with a directive to allow public access to the venue when it is not being used for a concert or an event, but without compromising safety and liability considerations. The venue will not be closed and be ‘dark’ when it is not being used,” the group wrote.
The team also highlighted how the amphitheater will become one of the most sustainable venues in the world. “Concerts, events and festivals generate tons of waste through items such as cups, plates, cans and napkins. To operate our in-house food and beverage program, Just Imagine will only use products and materials that can be recycled or re-usable. No styrofoams or single-use plastics including plastic bags and straws will be used during any concerts or events,” Just Imagine wrote. The team will also use technology for access control and/or payments by either using collectible and reusable wristbands (like Disney’s Magic Bands) or by using an attendee’s technology on their phones.
Food and beverage: Varner and Jap [who are part of the team] are owners and partners in Zukku Sushi LLC, a sushi, sushi burritos and poke bowl concept inside Tampa’s Heights Public Market at Armature Works. The owners will use their expertise to operate and manage any concessions concept at Imagine Clearwater.
How the team will confront issues: Once an issue is identified, the team will work with the city and the community to work on a solution. For example, one of the first events held at the St. Pete Pier created a logistic issue and safety concerns for pedestrians on the Pier, during load-in and load-out of the event. The team immediately identified the issue and created a new plan for event load-in/load-out that is currently in effect. Just Imagine said it also understands the potential amplified sound concerns for residents and business owners in the immediate area. Just Imagine would address this by identifying an ideal curfew time that will be beneficial for all parties. Additionally, it will conduct an assessment and suggest appropriate stage placements that will mitigate sound travel for any events that require multiple stages.
Ruth Eckerd Hall
The team: The team consists of the same executives that operate Ruth Eckerd Hall. REH CEO Susan Crockett will oversee the amphitheater’s venue; Bobby Rossi will craft the lineup of artists; Megan Brennan, REH chief marketing officer, will oversee institutional marketing and brand formation; REH CFO Sarah Prout will oversee financial and risk management, human resources and information technology for the amphitheater; and Sharon Reid-Kane, who currently oversees all educational programming and community engagement activities at REH, will extend those to the amphitheater site.
About the group and plans for the amphitheater: REH 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 typically maintains an 80% earned and 20% contributed revenue model, which it says is highly efficient for an arts organization. The group added that its current net assets total $47 million. 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.
Food and beverage: In addition to beverage and hand-held snacks, several food trucks would be contracted to provide more food options.
How the team will confront issues: REH stated physical barriers have significant drawbacks, but the canopy itself will provide some protection versus open air. The production manager will monitor sound levels to ensure appropriate sound diffusion and safe volume. All of its outdoor concerts require compliance with local code and there is technology to assist.
The Clearwater City Council is scheduled to vote this month on the selection committee’s recommendation. The projected opening date for the $84 million Imagine Clearwater waterfront park is July 2023.