It's unclear what specifically a Town Center entails and how it will be financed.
The phrase “minimal cost to the town,” has entered the conversation in talks on how an arts, culture and education center might someday be financed.
Town leaders have continued to search for a partner to help support a privately funded facility but recently shifted to accommodate a wider range of possibilities.
“There was a concern by saying ‘no cost,’” Town Manager Tom Harmer said. “That was drawing a line to clear in the sand that there may be offsets and little things that the town does to help overall, and that would be minimal.”
Commissioner George Spoll said he suggested the change.
“Immediately, I said, ‘It should read minimal cost’ because there are things that the town can do in its own interest to support the project,” Spoll said.
The town must figure out how to move forward after Ringling College of Art and Design stepped back from its relationship with Longboat Key in 2019 after five years of discussion.
Ringling College President Larry Thompson told the Observer it is “not probable” for the college to return as a partner with the town. Like many colleges, Thompson said Ringling has felt the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A concept plan from Hoyt Architects shows the possibility of up to an 11,200-square-foot structure at the northeast part of the Town Center site and up to a 7,700-square-foot structure alongside.
Longboat Key Public Works Director Isaac Brownman is in the process of putting together a brochure to market the Town Center site to potential partners.
Commissioners recently talked about whether the brochure should include a cost estimate.
“As I see it, to attract a private partner here, we need to categorize to some extent, what we’re talking about dollar-wise,” District 4 Commissioner Jack Daly said. “That’s the only way I think we can get off the ground again.”
At-Large Commissioner BJ Bishop didn’t think the town should include cost information in the brochure until forming a private partnership.
“Until you have developed a partnership, you can’t possibly know what that partner wants to build,” Bishop said.
Daly said he would like to see approximate costs and square footage included in the brochure.
“Unless we are serious about defining the project, with all the input we've had, to some extent with the range of the square footage and to some extent with the ballpark costs here, as part of our brochure and the like, I think we are just wasting time,” Daly said. “I think that we will not generate even remotely an interest in a private entity to go forward.”
Mayor Ken Schneier described the ongoing process as a classic conundrum.
“[It's] obviously a little bit of chicken [and] egg in the process,” Schneier said.
In February, Harmer and Schneier met with The Longboat Key Education Center executive director Susan Goldfarb about potential programming at the Town Center site.
“She talked to us about some of the programs that she does,” Harmer said. “Some are music-related, some are performance-related that she does inside.”
Harmer said the town has envisioned allowing combined programming at the Town Center.
“From a staff perspective, we’ve been working on, ‘how do we activate the property because we think that’s going to generate interest, but also ideas?’” Harmer said. “People are going to say, ‘Wow, if you can do this here, you might be able to do that.’”
Spoll said he supported multiple options for programming at the Town Center, but it ultimately comes down to which entity finances it.
Spoll's and Daly’s terms on the Town Commission come to an end on March 22. Spoll said he would continue working on the Town Center project as a private citizen on the Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force.
“ I am helping to plant trees that I may never sit under,” Spoll said. “I think that is an incredible kind of philosophy.
“That statement is what drives me. I know that I want to see all these things, but I’m perfectly excited about planting those trees, and I know will never sit under them, but that doesn’t matter.”
Spoll could have chosen to run for a final three-year term, but did not. He cited his older age as the reason why. Daly reached his term limits.
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