Zev Buffman was a Broadway producer before taking the lead at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Fla. (Pedro Castellano)

Zev Buffman announced retirement as president/CEO in 2018

Former Ruth Eckerd Hall President and CEO Zev Buffman has died, the Clearwater, Fla., theater and nonprofit announced Friday. Buffman was 89 and died of natural causes Wednesday in Seattle.

He joined Ruth Eckerd Hall in 2011, overseeing a $10 million renovation of the Nancy and David Bilheimer Capitol Theatre in downtown Clearwater and the initial planning and fundraising for the $11 renovation of Ruth Eckerd Hall. Buffman also advocated for increasing arts education outreach in the community and the professional development of young artists.

Buffman first made his name as a producer on Broadway, where he was nominated for multiple Tony Awards. He was responsible for the theatrical debut of Elizabeth Taylor in “The Little Foxes” and the first Broadway run of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

In addition to producing national Broadway tours, he was instrumental in southeastern Florida entertainment, having managed Miami’s Coconut Grove Playhouse, Fort Lauderdale’s Parker Playhouse and Miami Beach’s Jackie Gleason Performing Arts Center. He helped co-found the NBA’s Miami Heat in 1988 and in 2003 became president and CEO of the RiverPark Center in Owensboro, Ky.

“The entire Ruth Eckerd Hall family mourns the passing of a fearless leader,” said Susan Crockett, Ruth Eckerd Hall president and CEO, in making the announcement. “Zev was a larger-than-life legend whose remarkable passion, creativity and energy shaped the Ruth Eckerd Hall of today. We extend our deepest sympathy to Zev’s wife, Vilma, children and family in their grief.”

Ruth Eckerd Hall’s chairman of the board, Mike Bollenback, commented, “Zev’s passion for the arts was the driving force behind his commitment to move Ruth Eckerd Hall forward during his tenure as CEO.”

Buffman announced his retirement from Ruth Eckerd Hall in October 2018 and relocated with his wife to the Seattle area.