Will The Council Buy Royalty Theater Tonight?
By Anne McKay Garris
Purchase of the 83 year old Royalty Theater in Downtown Clearwater will be under consideration at the Clearwater City Council meeting, tonight. Although the purchase price is $2.41 million, the consensus on the Council seems to be that the investment is worth it. Council Member Carlen Petersen stated that there were business people ready to open restaurants and retail establishments in downtown if the City buys the Theater. She stated that one of the reasons she ran for office was because she was tired of seeing an empty downtown.
Asked where the City would find the $2.3 million for this purchase, considering the recent cutbacks in the budget, Council Member Paul Gibson replied, "It's called the Retained Earnings Account." He explained this is an account where funds go when money is budgeted, but not used, and where interest is deposited when funds are appropriated for a project and collect interest while waiting to be spent. Both Gibson and Council Member John Doran agreed that at least some of the money in the Retained Earnings Account could be used for General Fund items, such as salaries of library and recreation center workers.
Council Member Gibson argued that the money should come from future Penny For Pinellas income. His problem with Penny For Pinellas has always been that the infrastructures built with Penny For Pinellas money usually create a need for ongoing salary and maintenance costs. In the case of the Royalty Theater; once the City has purchased the property, Ruth Eckerd Hall will operate the program there without need for city operating expenses.
Other Council Members argued that there would have to be a public hearing before Pennies For Pinellas funds could be used, and it would take too long.
Advocates for the purchase argue that less expensive opportunities for children to participate in the arts; the location on the west side of the city; and a place for performances that would not fill the much larger Eckerd Hall auditorium, makes the Royalty Theater purchase a good deal for all the residents of entire city, as well as Downtown.
If the City purchases the property, which includes the theater and the "Lokey Building" on the corner next door, Ruth Eckerd Hall officials will then have a $8 million fund drive for use on renovations. At this point, the City will contribute another $3 million to help with the renovation.
As soon as the property is purchased, the City will spend $250,000 for clean up and minor repairs so that performances may begin very soon. The major renovations are expected to take up to two years to complete.
Meantime, city officials are warning that even more cuts in the library and recreation center budgets are expected next year, and no one, so far, has recommended that the Retained Earnings Fund be used to prevent the closing of libraries and recreation centers.
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