Ringling President Larry Thompson talks future Longboat Key plans

Associate Publisher

Architecting a building and cultural center people will treasure and want to watch plays, take art classes and gather together in will be a great challenge for Ringling College President Larry Thompson — but one he says he is up for. Thompson is keenly aware of how visitors and residents are appreciative of the arts on Longboat Key.

“A lot of people come here for the beaches and then they find the arts,” said Thompson.

Thompson was approached by the town of Longboat Key to determine if he would be interested in helping develop and operate the proposed Cultural Arts Center on Longboat Key. The Ringling College already operates the Longboat Key Center for the Arts in the Longboat Key Village. The proposed site for the new Cultural Arts Center would be where the town just purchased the property Amore Restaurant occupies.

“I was aware of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) study and needing a center for Longboat Key. Part of the ULI study stated they were thinking Publix was the place to put it. The Town was wrestling with how not to burden taxpayers, and that’s when the town approached us and said, ‘Would you be willing to run this thing?’” said Thompson. “Then we strategized what was needed and how to accomplish it; and how to operate it not at a loss.”

Thompson feels the success of the new Cultural Arts Center is a matter of programming it so people will want to come in masses.

“We need the center to be a place where people will want to come and the programming that will draw them,” said Thompson.


Classes offered/gallery space

Thompson says there’s an interest in having something similar to what they already have at the Longboat Key Center for the Arts. He said there will be a lot of hands-on classes including painting, drawing, sculpture and ceramics. There will also be studio space, not for artists, but for instruction purposes only. There will also be gallery space for exhibitions. But Thompson said Ringling will do some examination of what people want to see at the new Center as well.

“We’ll be doing marketing analysis to determine what will be of interest to people,” said Thompson. “I would see us as having more space than what we have now. We have a number of galleries on our (Ringling) campus now that are traveling; this would be a similar thing. There would be some Longboat Key artists featured as well as some traveling exhibits. We have access to a lot of different things. We will also have access to the new museum (Sarasota Museum of Art in the old Sarasota High School building on U.S. 41),” said Thompson.

Thompson also said the Ringling College is also taking on the Lifelong Learning Academy, which they’re taking over in June. The Lifelong Learning Academy, says Thompson, has 3,000 students. Thompson says the new Center will also be working closely with the Longboat Key Education Center.


Flexible space

“One of the things the town needs is meeting space for when Town Commission meetings are overflowing. They need a place for larger meetings so what I’m envisioning is having that space,” said Thompson.

That space will be multi-purpose as there will also be a Black Box Theatre which would also be used for the commission meeting space. The theatre will have 200-300 seats that are mobile and can be arranged in different configurations for different occasions.

“There’s interest from other theatres around here to use the space as well. But it’s not going to be competitive; it’s in tandem. For example, the West Coast Black Theatre may use the space for a show,” said Thompson. Thompson said to make it financially viable it will be necessary to define with the town what kind of community events and organizations make sense to use the space and which don’t.


Building design and ownership

Thompson believes the purchase of the Amore Restaurant land was a good idea since, “Amore Restaurant is on a higher piece of land and one of the dilemmas with the other part of the property was that it was on low land so there would be a lot of fill dirt to put in. So it was a great move to make this work.” Right now the new Cultural Art Center building is slated to be 40,000 square feet and most likely two stories. Thompson is also very certain he wants the architecture of the building to make an impression on the community as well.

“It will be a building which will be architecturally significant. I’m envisioning a building that is a statement in some way,” said Thompson.

According to Thompson, the town will provide the site, site development engineering, and the site planning. The town will own the property and the building, and the Ringling College will hold a long-term lease. The Ringling College is also in charge of the architectural design and layout.

“The Ringling would pick the architect because we want a building that would be useable by us. You have to raise the money for it,” noted Thompson. “We will be creating and working with the Longboat Key Foundation in raising the money for the project. And we will engage the architects on a conceptual design, which will help with the fundraising.”

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