LBK Town Center moves forward; final plan unclear

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The Longboat Key Town Commission voted last week to continue the development of the site of what is referred to as ‘The Town Center Property.’ 

The Town paid $3.7 million to buy the 4.8-acres just east of Publix where the Amore Restaurant once operated. The goal then, and now, remains the same: to create a gathering place for residents and visitors, allowing a range of activities with the ultimate goal of a community Art Center or perhaps a multi-use county library.

A year ago, the commission scuttled plans and an agreement with the Ringling School of Art and Design that was centered on a plan for the Longboat Key Foundation to raise about $13 million to pay for a center and the Ringling to operate and manage the facility. The Town’s role was to provide the land.

The Ringling partnership faltered when two commissioners became outspoken critics and Ringling President Larry Thompson withdrew from the proposal.

Since then, the Town has been busy developing the site into an outdoor venue, while preserving buildable area for a future community facility when and if the funding and wherewithal manifests.

Last week, the Town Commission instructed Manager Tom Harmer to return with detailed costs to build out what it refers to as Phase II. This phase encompasses hard surface walkways, fixed shade structures, public restrooms, a landscape master plan as well as short and long-term bike parking.

The Town currently has about $650,000 in its Land Acquisition Fund that should be enough according to Hoyt Architects, the firm designing the project, to cover the costs of the above improvements.

One of the improvements that it may not completely pay for is a fixed performance structure, but there may be enough to cover a concrete pad to allow for a portable stage.

All of these efforts are meant to infuse the property, that was recently cleared and leveled, with uses that could be realized by the end of the year and certainly by the next busy season.

The initial plan will also provide areas for temporary tents with provisions for electric power as well as areas set aside for food trucks. All to lend the site for events such as Kiwanis, Garden Club, Rotary, and other Town activities.

Hoyt Architects said it was premature to start community or recreation center plans. The consensus at the commission meeting was that there were a lot of strong feelings on whether the eventual building on the site should be for community performances, art classes and other activities or others desire an extension of the Sarasota County Library as a possibility for the site.

For now, beyond the improvements to allow outdoor activities, any construction of a building is both unfunded and unplanned.

Some commissioners were worried that parking on the site could be an issue due to the popularity of some of Longboat Key’s signature events. Public Works Director Isaac Brownman said that Temple Beth Israel was open to the idea of an agreement allowing overflow parking on the grass site south of the Temple.

Commissioner BJ Bishop said there was nothing in the Town Code that says you can build a building and not have acceptable parking. She said that using Bank or Temple parking “could be short-sighted.”

At the end of the discussion, all six commissioners in attendance voted to move forward with Phase II and the outdoor improvements with Harmer instructed to return with specific costs before proceeding.

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