Florida Studio Theatre has grown past its footprint in downtown Sarasota and is planning an expansion that will result in a new mainstage, two new cabarets, expanded parking and artist housing.
Florida Studio Theatre is growing again.
The performing-arts company announced ambitious plans for an expansion project Monday night that will add a new main stage and two new cabaret theaters to the downtown Sarasota campus. The project — which is expected to cost more than $20 million — also includes additional parking and housing for actors and arts workers.
The initiative is called the Mulva Arts Plaza, and FST expects to break ground this December. The company announced its plans Monday evening at the Keating Theatre in an event for donors, and Managing Director Rebecca Hopkins set the stage for the future.
“It has been an amazingly difficult year, but we are so happy to be here with you tonight and finally after all of this be able to share with you our vision of a bright future,” she said. “It’s very suiting that we would do this from the Keating Theatre.
“It’s our heart. We always come back here before we take the next step in our growth.”
Hopkins said that Florida Studio Theatre has put on 22 productions and reached more than 115,000 people since last March, and the expansion is expected to push those numbers even higher.
Richard Hopkins, chief executive officer and producing artistic director of FST, led the audience through a history lesson of the theater company’s evolution. And he provided details about the new project, which he said has been in the planning process for four years.
“I want you to understand that what we do at Florida Studio Theatre, we never do capriciously,” he said. “The neat thing about FST is that it was founded by artists, and it continues to be run by artists. And we understand organic process. Process is everything to us. If the process is honest, we know we will get an honest result.”
Hopkins said that in 2019, Florida Studio Theatre had 39,000 subscriptions and put on more than 1,450 performances. And when he thought about the avenues for growth for the company, he kept coming back to two areas: Parking spaces and housing for actors.
The theater owned 18 houses around town that it was using for artist housing. But with the housing market booming, Hopkins said that it made sense to sell them and start over. That, in turn, would allow the theater to base its actors right in downtown Sarasota.
“By January 2026,” says Hopkins, "It will all be done, and we’ll all drink a bunch of liquor.”
The new plaza will add 55 extended-stay studio apartments for guest artists and 30 units of affordable housing for artists and arts workers based year-round in Sarasota.
FST believes the project will add 200 parking spaces to the FST complex.
“On a night when the opera’s playing and we’re playing, you can’t get a parking spot at Palm Avenue,” Hopkins said. “So that was one of the first things that started driving the idea of building another building for Florida Studio Theatre.
"It’s not that we’re sort of enjoying building buildings. I would really much rather spend my time directing plays."
Hopkins unveiled the names of the new buildings during his presentation.
The edifices will be named the Mulva Mainstage, the Maier Cabaret and the Schlegel Cabaret. The artist housing complex will be named the McGillicuddy Residences.
The FST plan estimates the new structures will add $4 million to the operating budget within four years.
More than $17 million has already been raised for the project, and Hopkins says that FST is targeting $28.5 million as the final figure including money earmarked for its endowment.
“We’re pretty sure we can make this,” Hopkins said. “And we’re also cognizant of the fact that the costs may increase because we’re in a very different time right now. We’re not living in LaLa Land about this. We recognize that costs are volatile, especially in construction. This could go up significantly and we’re prepared to meet the challenge.”
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