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Capitol Theatre Project: Downtown Buildings Showing their Age


Three nearly century old buildings in downtown, under major reconstruction to make way for the new Capitol Theatre, are full of structural surprises, contributing to an increase in unanticipated expenses.
More than a dozen construction discoveries encountered during the demolition phase of the project has prompted a request to increase the City’s Capitol Theatre project budget to $7,612,209, an increase of $500,000.
In a letter to City Manager William Horne, Ruth Eckerd Hall President and CEO Zev Buffman wrote that the downtown’s proposed “leading anchor” has been plagued by “expensive, disruptive and time consuming surprises.”
The total of unanticipated construction costs are currently at $700,000, Buffman reported, and could reach $800,000, although city officials suggested that the exact overrun is still to be determined.
Buffman requested that the city council allocate another $500,000 to the Capitol Theatre budget in order to complete the project. “We are hoping the City will help out with this by applying half of the state grant to the project budget,” before taking reimbursement funds.
The City applied for a $500,000 state grant and was awarded $1,000,000 through the Cultural Facilities Grant program earlier this year.  According to a report compiled by the Florida Cultural Alliance, the request qualified for the $500,000 grant under the cultural facilities program, but the Legislature added an additional $500,000 during its spring sessions. The request for funding the theatre project ranked as the 14th top project in the state, according to reports from the alliance.
Councilwoman Doreen Hock-DiPolito suggested that going forward Ruth Eckerd Hall project managers provide the city with a break-down of all construction costs. Referring to an appendix that accompanied Buffman’s letter that outlined the “surprises” and their coinciding costs, she said, “In my industry, these costs are pretty high.”
Councilman Jay Polglaze advised, “For me this is it. … All the surprises have come to light. There should be no more surprises. Everything should be known at this point. It’s imperative that this budget stands from here on out.”
Mayor George Cretekos echoed Polgaze’s comment, “When we entered into an agreement with the Philadelphia Phillies for a facility, we gave them a cost item and anything above that cost item, whether it is a surprise or not, they pay it. We need to keep that in mind as we go forward.  We’re not here to fund everything.”
As in the previous agreement, the amendment states that Ruth Eckerd will fund the balance of the additional costs above the budget, an amount which is now $7,612,209.
Buffman’s memo outlined that during the initial reconstruction a number of major issues surfaced, including:
- Originally thought to be two walls, the old Clearwater Evening Sun and the theatre buildings shared a common wall. A special engineer was hired to stabilize and brace the wall. Slated for demolition, the tribute to names of local World War I veterans was discovered on this common wall.
- The foundation of the common wall required enlargement and under-pinning and the southwest corner of the theatre building had virtually no foundation. This also required reconstruction.
- The foundation of the east wall of the basement in the 409 building required additional concrete footings, piers, grade beams and block wall.
- The theatre seating layout was rejected by the building department because of new state ADA requirements that went into effect this year.
- The north half of the second floor balcony was structurally unsound.
- Engineers deemed the roof trusses and the front stage support wall of the theatre was inadequate and failed code.
- The theatre will need a new roof.
- The 70 percent of the concrete slab under the theatre’s auditorium was re-poured.
- To convert a vacated alley to a parking lot between Ft. Harrison to Osceola required additional expenses than anticipated.
- Unexpected costs to remove several tons of construction debris.
In spite of the “surprises,” Buffman wrote that the construction project is “progressing well” and anticipates an early December opening. To ensure an opening before the holiday season, the construction schedule may be modified from six days to seven days, he said.
A dormant 2008 lease and operating agreement between the City and Ruth Eckerd was resurrected, revised and approved last summer that commits almost $10 million in public funds towards the proposed expansion and renovation including the city’s purchase of the Lokey building for $2.4 million.
Last year, the City agreed to provide funding for the project in an amount not to exceed $7,112,209. The agreement further states, “REH shall be responsible for and shall pay all costs in connection with the Capitol Theatre project in excess of the amount of the City Funds.”    
Ruth Eckerd executives were also expected to establish a $3 million capital endowment fund to cover costs associated with construction overruns and start-up costs. The original pledge was $8 million. They were also challenged to raise an additional $100,000 each year after for the next 10 years for its maintenance and operation. In the past, the city has contributed $148,000 annually towards performances.
The agreement maintains an original intent that the 92-year-old playhouse is owned by the city and operated by Ruth Eckerd officials.
Plans include renovation of the adjacent Lokey building, which will eventually be converted into a grand lobby, concession areas, and restrooms for the theatre. When completed, the 655-seat Capitol will become a venue at which Ruth Eckerd Hall will present all genres of live entertainment, including jazz, classical artists, pop music acts, film, dance and other diverse national, regional and local acts.

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