St. Pete Mahaffey Theater Shines As Cultural Beacon

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ST. PETE, FL – The Mahaffey Theater has experienced a remarkable transformation and story since new management took over in 2011, and become a key part of the “City of the Arts.” This impressive revival began with the vision of Bill Edwards, who is one of St. Petersburg’s biggest advocates and CEO of both Big3 Entertainment and the Bill Edwards Foundation for the Arts.

Edwards’ extensive experience in the entertainment industry made him a perfect fit to manage the theater, bringing with him a wealth of knowledge and know-how in music, theater, comedy and performance art. From the beginning, Edwards implemented a dramatic renovation of the theater, addressing vital cosmetic changes as well as infrastructure updates to attract higher quality entertainment and appeal to a broader audience. Bill Edwards utilized his leadership to transform the Mahaffey Theater into a beacon of cultural activity for the city, county and beyond.

Edwards wasted no time in revitalizing the theater once he secured a management contract from the city, by booking big-name acts like Don Henley, Marc Anthony and Cedric the Entertainer. He had a deep understanding of the importance of making a splash to draw attention to the venue, increasing awareness for residents and visitors alike. This initial success was followed by a series of renowned performers and entertainers over the years, including Chris Isaak, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, Tony Bennett, Stevie Nicks, the Doobie Brothers, Jerry Seinfeld, Patti LaBelle, Smokey Robinson and Christina Aguilera, helping to firmly establish the Mahaffey Theater as a premier entertainment destination.

I was particularly proud of our backstage crew for successfully handling the Christina Aguilera show in 2018,” said Edwards. “She arrived with 12 semi-truck loads of equipment, having just performed at an arena for tens of thousands, and we were able to accommodate her in our intimate venue of 2,031 seats.”

Edwards personally funded a complete renovation of the theater and backstage areas as a firm believer in his vision. One component of the initial plan involved better space utilization, which led to Edwards taking an existing small black box area within the theater and transforming it into a Member Lounge.

The initiative was part of his broader strategy by Edwards to establish the foundation that bears his name, encouraging memberships, donors and sponsors to become fully integrated into the Mahaffey Theater and Foundation experience and mission. The Member Lounge offers an intimate space perfect for hosting monthly networking events, cocktail receptions, meetings and more, supporting the continued growth of the foundation and theater.

In 2011, Edwards added $ 1 million of his personal funds to create and seed the Bill Edwards Foundation for the Arts, creating the 501(C)3 as the support arm for programming of the Mahaffey. This funding enabled the foundation to grow and present over 340 culturally diverse shows and events each year, with an impressive 75% of the shows selling out. Additionally, Edwards inherited the Class Acts youth education programming, demonstrating a commitment to nurturing an inclusive environment for schoolchildren in a six-county area.

In the 2023-2024 school year alone, over 30,000 students in the Tampa Bay area were able to attend live performances or festivals (at no cost), enriching their educational experience through exposure to the arts. To date, over 250,000 schoolchildren have been served under Edwards’ management. The mission of the foundation is to foster cultural diversity as well as educate, engage and entertain the community.

“Since the foundation’s inception, we’ve been on an upward trajectory, and I must give special recognition to our President, Amy Harriett Miller, for her exceptional leadership of our staff. In the five years since Amy joined us, we have made significant strides in building our foundation, supporting culturally diverse programming and youth education initiatives. Our outstanding team deserves credit for these remarkable achievements,” said Edwards.

One of the most recent endeavors at the Mahaffey is the fusion of performing, visual and culinary arts all under one roof in downtown St. Petersburg. The facility not only has a world class theater venue, it also boasts an art gallery featuring stunning glass and 2D art (a collaborative effort with the Imagine Museum).

“I am thrilled to express my deepest gratitude to Trish Duggan, founder and CEO of Imagine Museum, and her incredible team for their generous collaboration in showcasing their stunning original art in our gallery, with these magnificent pieces available for purchase. Our partnership has been so fantastic that Ms. Duggan has enthusiastically agreed to join our foundation’s board of directors. Together, we will continue to bring exceptional art to the public and inspire creativity in our community,” announced Edwards.

The most recent addition within the venue is fine dining at Sonata Restaurant – complete with banquet facility – seamlessly incorporating culinary arts into the Mahaffey experience.

“Once you walk through the doors of the Mahaffey Theater, we want you to feel like you’re entering a special place that celebrates the arts, entertainment, and civic engagement,” said Edwards.

“Where else can you find world-class entertainment and a host of sold-out shows? This summer, Netflix chose us to film Bert Kreischer’s seven sold-out live shows. After evaluating other venues in the area, we’re thrilled they selected us to host this event in downtown St. Petersburg. This puts our theater on the map both nationally and internationally. As we enter our 60th year and celebrate our anniversary, get ready for our next lineup – many new surprises in entertainment await. The best is yet to come!”

Carlos Eats

July 4, 2024 |

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