Longboat Community Center plans under review on many fronts

Amore Restaurant on Longboat Key is demolished to make way for a future Arts, Culture and Education Center.

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The Town of Longboat Key’s plan to build an Arts, Culture and Education Center on public property east of Publix faces an uncertain future.

The one point of agreement is most every resident and each Longboat Commissioner wants to see some form of a facility where residents can gather to attend classes, theatre, create art as well as view art in a gallery setting.

The conundrum is at what cost, what size is appropriate and realistic, and last but certainly foremost, who will pay for it?

On March 5 of last year, the Town Commission approved a concept plan for a project that included all of the above as well as a black box theatre for a total project cost of about $18 million.

The plan has also evolved to the point where there is a Memorandum of Understanding as well as a Pre-Construction Agreement with the Ringling College of Art & Design. The partnership is based on the town providing the land, Ringling overseeing the design and construction of the facility, and the Ringling managing the operation.  As always, the rub is in the money.

The $18 million is slated to be raised through private donations solicited by the Longboat Key Foundation and the Ringling. But last month, Ringling President Larry Thompson told the commission at a workshop meeting that he thought the project should be phased and the cost estimate for Phase I be reduced to $10 million. He suggested that the black box theatre not be part of that first phase and be built as Phase II.

Since then, Commissioner Jim Brown has served as a committee of one to evaluate the plan, the proposed changes, and gauge what the community will support. This week, Brown updated the commission at its regular meeting and asked for another month to continue his research.

“I have continued to pursue all avenues, but still have some things to further explore. One conclusion is that the people of Longboat Key do want a theatre,” said Brown.

Brown added that in his conversations with Longboat residents he felt there was the potential to raise the funds, especially for a theatre.

As far as the phasing approach, Brown said he preferred to build it all at once, the way it was planned and designed initially. He said he would look at ways to build it “more economically.”

There was some confusion on the commission as to how much and whether the Ringling had secured funds, and there was also concern that if there were too many delays, many residents will leave before any fundraising can be accomplished this season.

Brown reiterated, that “overwhelmingly people want a theatre.”

Mayor George Spoll said it would be useful to clarify the theatre space issue for fundraising, and added that the theatre seems to be a popular aspect.

Spoll added that he spends summers in the Adirondacks and that the cultural center in the village there “is the highlight of the town.” He also said that in that village, the cultural center is the same size as what is proposed and that it makes a lot of sense. Spoll posed the question of whether the commission was looking at this as “a Longboat function, or a Ringling function? What I see is a heavy focus on classroom space and galleries.”

Brown broke in saying that it was not the right time and place to be questioning these issues since there was much research for him to continue with and he asked for additional time.

“The cost as it stands breaks down to $1,000 per square foot. That price is too high. I don’t think we should sit here and debate this. There are some people that want the elaborate black box theatre. It is something that the community wants and has wanted, since I got involved back in 2002,” said Brown.

Commissioner Ken Schneier said that there is now a vacuum in the community since the Art Center in the Village at the north end closed. He suggested that if the commission had its objectives laid out right now, the public could be approached and money could be raised.

Commissioner Jack Daly said that he heard the number of $11 million for a first phase suggested by Ringling.

Commissioner Irwin Pastor said that there is no agreed upon number.

The commission decided to give Brown additional time to vet the various costs and issues and come back with a full report and recommendation on how to proceed in March.

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1 Response for “Longboat Community Center plans under review on many fronts”

  1. Sunny Gravy says:

    I take issue that most every resident wants an Art Center or Town Center. Why not have a referendum on this matter before spending anymore money?

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