Sarasota architect Don Lawson described the proposed building as “forward looking in terms of its shapes and designs.” Residents of the surrounding Longbeach Village called the structure “commercial looking” and out of place in the historic neighborhood.
After hearing concerns from residents at a Wednesday, April 4 meeting, the Longboat Key Center for the Arts, a Division of Ringling College of Art and Design, decided not to file a request for an amendment and extension of its existing site plan two days later as planned.
Instead, Tracy A. Wagner, Ringling vice president of finance and administration, sent a letter April 6 to Town Planner Ric Hartman withdrawing a request for the amendment to go before the town’s Planning & Zoning Board April 17.
“In meeting with the Village Association, a number of concerns were raised that Ringling College of Art and Design believes merit further consideration and conversation with the association, surrounding neighbors, and our Advisory Council,” Wagner wrote. “Although we are eager to move our plans forward, we wish to do so in a respectful and thoughtful manner. I very much appreciate all the time and effort the Planning, Zoning and Building staff invested in assisting Ringling College and the Center through the process. I firmly believe we will return to discuss our future plans but with greater involvement from the community.”
The college was initially seeking to amend its existing site plan that was approved in 2003, before the Arts Center and Ringling College merged. That site plan, which would have allowed the Arts Center to build a new structure in its current green area to be used as gallery space, was amended in 2009 to include a new deadline of June 30, 2012, for obtaining building permits.
But that site plan wasn’t what Ringling wanted for the Arts Center. For example, the college wanted to construct a different building for use as a classroom space, allowing the Arts Center to become more of a destination. The existing plan also didn’t reflect a deteriorated condition of the existing ceramics wing; didn’t feature one of the historic Whitney cottages; and signage locations didn’t assist with directing traffic.
“It doesn’t meet our needs anymore,” said, Christine Meeker Lange, Ringling special assistant to the president for media and community relations. “We were working toward a deadline that didn’t need to be there.”
Lange said that Ringling still plans to address the future of the Arts Center but that no timetable currently exists. The Arts Center’s newly created Advisory Council will likely re-assess the matter in the fall, possibly working with groups that have discussed visioning for the island.
Village residents were pleased with the decision to hold off on the plan.
“There’s a character to the surrounding area, and I think, by all means, that it needs to be preserved,” said Richard Levin, a retired architect who criticized the plan as out-of-character with the Village at Wednesday’s meeting.
Resident Michael Riter told the Longboat Observer that he didn’t object to most of the plan presented at Wednesday’s meeting.
“It’s not that we don’t want the Arts Center to be successful,” Riter said. “The one thing that we objected to was the size and placement of the studio building.”
Riter expressed confidence that Ringling officials can come up with a solution to address the Arts Center’s future needs.
“Ringling is in the creativity business,” he said. “I believe they can come up with a very creative solution as to what their needs are.”
Update: The Ringling College of Art and Design hasn’t submitted new plans for the Longboat Key Center for the Arts.
The Arts Center is currently serving as a beta-test site for Ringling’s Applied Center for Creativity & Innovation with the goal of bringing CEOs and their teams to the facility for three-to-five day workshop with the goal of accessing creativity from them selves.
Arts Center Executive Director Jane Buckman told the Longboat Observer in November that a new site plan could be submitted in the future but would be premature at this point, because programs are still in testing mode.