Crews are scheduled to finish site work on the Town Center Green by late summer, Longboat Key town projects manager Charlie Mopps said.
It's not the way Longboat Key leaders would have liked to see plans unfold, but the local state of emergency could end up speeding the work to convert the Town Center Green from a somewhat unkempt and undulating piece of property into a spot useful for a wide range of events.
Site work at the 4.8 acres adjacent to the Public Tennis Center and the Shoppes of Bay Isles got under way last week with earth-moving and brush-clearing. A ground breaking had been planned, along with monthly installments of the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce's monthly Savor the Sounds concert series. Those have all been cancelled.
“There [were] other events that were scheduled to happen during construction that now have been postponed or canceled that allow the construction to go full bore,” Longboat Key town projects manager Charlie Mopps said.
The town agreed to a $515,000 contract with Gator Grading and Paving.
The improvements include clearing the property of vegetation, raising the site out of a floodplain, adding some shell pathways, adding sidewalks, resurfacing the former Amore restaurant parking lot and sodding a new grass field. It also includes running conduit for electrical connections that would be needed for a stage and vendors, Mopps said.
Mopps said crews from Terry’s Tree Service — a subcontractor on the project — are already getting work done ahead of schedule.
“It was supposed to be done in two weeks, and they got it done in a week,” Mopps said. “They’ve been really . . . getting it done, and that definitely helps in the schedule.”
For years, Longboat leaders have discussed what specifically to build at the site and how to fund the development of a town center.
“This is a temporary measure,” Mopps said. “Obviously, there’s been a survey sent out trying to get public opinion as to what the solution would look like on this property.”
Proposals have included building a community center, a new recreation center, an outdoor space for arts and live entertainment, a library, pickleball courts and a cafe among other ideas.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, public works staff was planning to compile resident feedback on what to do with the site, and present the town commission with a proposal as soon as April or May.
However, Town Hall is only considering items deemed time-sensitive or urgent for virtual meetings brought on by the pandemic.
The May 4 town commission agenda is not yet available either.
Longboat Key leaders must consider how to move forward after Ringling College stepped back from its relationship with the town. An Arts, Culture and Education Center with the college would have cost about $11.32 million, built with private donations. In the town's recent community survey, 53.1% of respondents said they would favor a donor-financed center. 24.8% said the opposed such a move, and 24% responded they were unsure.
In open-ended questions on the survey about potential programming of such a center, respondents who supported the notion typical said they would prefer to see art shows and displays, an array of educational options and live performances. Among those who said they did not favor such a building, several questioned the wisdom a permanent facility on an island with seasonal population swings.
"We absolutely don't need this center,'' wrote one survey respondent. " Sarasota has everything for arts/culture and is very close.''
One supporter urged the town to act. "I would like to see the art and cultural center ASAP before I die and get no use of it. My biggest complaint with the town is not moving forward on this endeavor. Get it started already.''
The town had scheduled a groundbreaking ceremony for the current outdoor work, but it got canceled because of the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
“They were counting on it,” Mopps said of the cancelation of the ceremony. “It’s a big deal. I mean, they had a tree-lighting ceremony. They’ve had concert events here, and now that the pandemic is here, obviously, those things can't occur. But, there is a silver lining.”
Because the town has canceled large public gatherings, Mopps said it would allow crews to focus on getting the work done by this summer. By then, perhaps residents will be able to enjoy the fruits of the town's labor.
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