The county commission approved a $400,000 request from Longboat Key to fund demolition and site design in preparation for the Arts, Cultural and Education Center.
Sarasota County Commissioners awarded Longboat Key $400,000 on Wednesday to support preparations for the town's proposed Arts, Cultural and Education Center at Town Center.
This funding, which came from the county’s community reinvestment program established to fund “infrastructure in furtherance of the public interest,” will be used to demolish the former Amore restaurant building and prepare the site for the proposed $18 million construction project, said Town Manager Tom Harmer, whose previous job was county manager for Sarasota.
“It seems like we’re begging people to give them $1.4 million,” county commissioner Mike Moran said of the community reinvestment program's total. “And no disrespect to Mr. Harmer, but he obviously knows how to fill out the paperwork to get the money.”
The County Commission approved Longboat Key’s request for funding by a vote of 4-1. Moran voted no.
Harmer said the funding could be put to use within the next three to six months, meaning demolition of the former Amore could start before the end of the year.
The funding could also be used to grade and sod the proposed site of the Arts, Cultural and Education Center so the town can “activate the space and use it,” Harmer said, while the Longboat Key Foundation raises money to construct the proposed building.
The project to build the Arts, Cultural and Education Center is a private-public partnership between the town of Longboat Key, the Ringling College of Art and Design and the Longboat Key Foundation.
The town has already invested more than $3.7 million into the project when it purchased the vacant lot next to the Amore building in 2014 for $1.5 million and the Amore building in 2017 for $2.2 million. The restaurant reopened last year in downtown Sarasota.
Ringling College of Art and Design has been tasked with raising the money to design the building and provide programing when the building is constructed.
Getting the money to build the facility is up to the Longboat Key Foundation — the nonprofit has not begun fundraising for this project.
The town and county must now enter into an agreement that structures the terms of the project, including a start and finish date, that must be adhered to for funding to be appropriated.
“This has been available for many years, it's not hidden, it's not some secret that Mr. Harmer took with him and said “Oh, I know where this money is,” said county commissioner Charles Hines. “This meets this criteria and I’m happy to move this thing forward.”