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Longboat Key Friday, Jan. 7, 2022 4 months ago

Former Longboat commissioners propose black box theater for Town Center site

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The proposal calls to raise $750,000 in private donations to build a black box theater.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

A group of Longboat Key leaders proposes and is raising money for a black box theater to be built on the Town Center Green, a public announcement of which town officials said surprised them and could run counter to discussions already underway. 

The late December news release from former Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce President Tom Aposporos and former Commissioners Ed Zunz and George Spoll said the group is close to halfway to its fundraising goal of $750,000. 

Tom Aposporos

“I respect the roles of all of these folks who are involved on the side of government and staff in Longboat Key,” said Aposporos, director of the group called Theatre on the Green. “My goal is to be as helpful to making them understand every aspect of this as I can be.”

The 4.8-acre Town Center site has evolved through several phases of development from a wooded tract to one now activated as a public-gathering spot with musical events, farmers markets and more planned. The original plan for the land, to work alongside Ringling College of Art and Design on a multi-purpose building financed by private money, fell through in 2018. 

Among the amenities now in the pipeline:

  • A 50-foot outdoor stage built with the help of a donation in December from Sarah and Paul Karon. The plan is for crews to build the new stage in time for next year’s snowbird season.
  • The Longboat Key Historical Society plans to open its historic cottage as a museum at some point this year.
  • Discussions with the Education Center at Temple Beth Israel, the Longboat Foundation and Sarasota County to perhaps one day build a multi-purpose structure that could include a county library. 

Aposporos said the idea is to privately raise money to build a facility. The Town Commission acknowledged in February 2021 a future Town Center should operate at “minimal cost to the town.”

Longboat Key Mayor Ken Schneier said he was “surprised and disappointed the (news) release got sent out.”

In a Dec. 30, 2021, email to the Town Commission, Town Manager Tom Harmer confirmed the Theatre on the Green group is advancing its proposal independent of the town. However, Harmer said the town plans to retain control and approval of any proposed projects at the town-owned site.

Schneier said he hadn’t heard from Spoll about the proposal until a day before the release went out. 

“He called me and he said he wanted to let me know that he was working on a project and he told me about it,” Schneier said. “He didn’t want to blindside me, but I said, ‘George, I’ve heard about this from everybody but you.’”

Spoll declined a request for an interview, deferring to Aposporos.

“The purpose of Theatre on the Green, Inc. is to complement, not compete with, similar venues on the mainland,” the group’s public release said.

Schneier said he tried to discourage Spoll from going too far.

“The town, and everyone knows this to one degree or another, has been actively pursuing a unified plan for Town Center buildings,” Schneier said.

Aposporos, who has previously served on the Anna Maria City Commission and the Poughkeepsie City Council in New York, estimated that the Theatre on the Green group would seek to collect about $750,000 to build the black box theater. 

In the release, the Theatre on the Green group announced it has reached 40% of its goal through donations and pledges.

Schneier said it’s not enough money to build a black box theater. 

“It is patently ridiculous to think a standalone theater could be built for that ($750,000),” Schneier said. “It couldn’t be equipped for that, no less built.”

In 2018, Ringling College stepped back from its relationship with the town to build an $11.32 million Arts, Culture and Education Center. Schneier said it would have cost an additional $6.5 million - $7 million to build a theater with the Ringling College proposal.

“George and Ed…decided not to support it, so why is that of significance now?” Schneier said of Spoll and Zunz’s votes as commissioners against Ringling College’s proposal in 2019. “It’s because I have this very concerning feeling of deja vu about George raising issues again and doing things that he’s been told before he issued a press release (that) could be disruptive to the unified plan that we’ve been working on with a variety of parties.”

Aposporos said a black box theater is needed to accommodate indoor events due to intense Florida heat and frequent rain. He also explained the reasoning to build a black box instead of a multi-purpose room.

“You can certainly use…a professionally constructed, well thought out black box theater as a multipurpose room, but you can’t always use a multipurpose room as a theater for professionals,” Aposporos said.

The Town Commission is scheduled to hear a staff update about the Town Center project at its Jan. 24 workshop meeting.

Theatre on the Green lists Spoll as its president and Zunz as the vice president. Pat Zunz, a former town commissioner and Ed Zunz’s wife, is listed as the treasurer. Spoll’s wife, Madelyn Spoll, is listed as the secretary. Tom and Kim Freiwald are also involved as directors.

“I hope that this is an incredibly harmonious exercise as we go forward, and that we’re all able to look upon each other as just wanting the very best for Longboat Key and for a specific project like this on Longboat Key,” Aposporos said.

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Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

See All Articles by Mark

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