Longboat debates cultural center

Associate Publisher

The future of Longboat Key’s Arts, Cultural, and Education (ACE) Center hangs in the balance as commissioners debate how to proceed with the plan for a Town Center.

At Monday’s workshop, Town Commissioners disagreed on how to proceed with the ACE Center and how to move forward now that the Ringling College of Art & Design has withdrawn from the project.

The ACE building was to be owned by the town and operated by the Ringling College. The building would be built on the town-owned property which previously held the Amore Restaurant. The money for the project was to be raised by the Ringling College. And last month, due to several commissioners’ contentious comments, Ringling President Larry Thompson wrote a letter to the town stating that he would withdraw from the project due to the difficulties in overcoming the negativity associated with his organization expressed by the town commission.

Commissioner Jack Daly said he thought the town still had an obligation to build the ACE building despite not having an agency to operate the facility.

“I think we still have consensus on an ACE facility. I think it’s incumbent on us to move forward with an ACE building. I think we need to get a fresh consensus here on how to move forward with an ACE building,” said Daly. “I think it should be incumbent upon us to delineate as specifically as we can an ACE facility concept then take that proposal for public input.”

Vice Mayor Zunz agreed, “I think we should figure out a way to move forward. The proposal is limited to an art program and adult education program. I think we need input from the public before we begin. We should have a methodology before we go forward. We should arrange for some public charrettes because this is a major project that we’re putting together.”

Mayor George Spoll thought including the public would be helpful as well.

“I think there is an interest in the public for the functions of the Art Center the way it was at the north end. There was a community of craftspeople and the change drove them off…The building should accommodate lectures, gallery space and a black box theatre. I also think the funds should be raised by the public. It should be professionally managed and there are entities that can make that happen. I think the area of controversy comes into play when the management comes in. We could run a series of meetings and it’s useful to get the public information,” said Spoll.

One of the opponents to the idea of continuing with the ACE Center plan was Commissioner Ken Schneier. Schneier considered the town may want to sell the property and give up the idea of a Town Center.

“I have worked hard on this commission and the Planning and Zoning Board, and I thought we had an ACE Center coming in full view this year. We still had the ability to raise the money to build this thing. The Ringling was going to help raise the money and manage it. These partnerships don’t come along every day. I still would like to hope that this relationship could be revived. Maybe we should just sell this property back to the private enterprise,” said Schneier. “A couple of months ago, two people decided the plan was not going to go forward with Ringling. This project was blocked by two people on this commission and that was wrong in my opinion. I’m not going to join the consensus that says it’s going to move forward because I think it would be unprincipled on my part. I do the best I can to vote for the public.”

Former Mayor Jim Brown echoed Schneier’s sentiments, “I don’t know when this became a commission that didn’t have majority rule. We have two people up there who can find a thousand ways to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. We had everything and now it’s gone. I just don’t understand why the majority is not ruling. It should be a simple vote. I don’t know why because two people don’t like those people, we don’t have it anymore.”

Commissioner Irwin Pastor did not understand why the commission did not have consensus.

“Why are we still talking about the previous collaboration? That is the past; we’ve got to move forward. I thought we had consensus on what we’re going to do. One, build the outdoor theatre, two, build support in the community, three hold the charrettes. Why are we antagonizing ourselves? It’s going to work out, it’s going to be a great thing,” said Pastor.

Pastor focused the conversation on the future once more, “We do have a plan; the only thing we’re missing is an operator for the facility. If there’s enough excitement and enthusiasm an operator will come. We have to be excited ourselves. Let’s work together; let’s make it happen. The educational part is going to happen. What we’re missing is the arts portion.”

In the end, the commission reached consensus to have Town Manager Tom Harmer activate the current site as an outdoor venue by installing basic water connections and electricity, make a concept plan for what will be included in the ACE Center, and make a process to engage the residents for public input regarding the ACE Center concept plan.

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2 Responses for “Longboat debates cultural center”

  1. I am an artist and a property owner on LBK. I used the LBK Art Center for many years and only stopped when the Ringing management took over. The programs were changed and there didn’t seem to be the art instruction that attracted the artists anymore. I am now a member of Art Center Sarasota and also the Bradenton Art Center where I regularly take classes. I was disappointed when the LBK Art Center closed but delighted to hear that a new Art Center would be constructed to replace it. I feel there is a need for the project to proceed to encourage visual and performing arts within our own community and allow it to continue to thrive on the island as it does on the mainland in Sarasota and Bradenton. It is my opinion that if Ringling is allowed to manage the center and takes the same approach as they did in the original center, it will not serve the needs of the artisans in the art community. I suggest that the management model employed by Art Center Sarasota and Bradenton be considered since they have created very successful and popular operations that enjoy very strong support from the community. I am confident that there is sufficient support for fine art/performing art within the LBK community to assure the success of this project.

  2. Sunny Gravy says:

    The only people who want this building are the Commissioner’s and a few diehards.This same thing was voted down by the resident voters.

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