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Longboat Key Wednesday, Mar. 11, 2020 2 years ago

Longboat Key leaders seek feedback, funding for proposed town center

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A proposed Arts, Culture and Education Center in cooperation with Ringling College would have cost about $11.32 million.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

Longboat Key staff and Hoyt Architects held a forum Wednesday morning to get public feedback on possibilities for an open-space site and town center.

After years of discussion, town leaders are still considering what specifically to build — and more important —  how to fund the projects.

“It boils down to a place for the community to gather,” said Longboat Key Public Works Director Isaac Brownman.

Possibilities include a community center, a new recreation center, an outdoor space for arts and live entertainment, a library, pickleball courts and a cafe among other things.

During Wednesday’s forum, former Jim Brown said he had worked since 2002 to develop the proposed town center in the area between Publix and the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center.

A Hoyt Architects rendering shows the proposed outdoor site for Longboat Key. The renderings show a stage at the north end, and potential future buildings to the east. The town has not decided on their permanent locations.

Longboat Key leaders are still considering 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.

However, there is no timetable or funding for the proposal.

Commissioner Jack Daly said he hopes the “hiccup” with Ringling College is “temporary.” He also said he is hopeful Ringling would come back to the table.

“I think that could happen, but having said that, it’s more important to think about a private funding support with some entity like Ringling or someone else if they're available here to truly fund an ongoing basis without taxpayer support here,” Daly said. “I call it the ACE building. That's the real key.”

Daly said Bayfront Park’s Recreation Center, which was donated in 1984, also needs to be replaced.

Incoming Commissioner BJ Bishop said the possibility of adding a county library could help secure grant funding to help pay for the proposed multi-use space.

The town’s library at 555 Bay Isles Road is a non-profit organization, staffed and operated by volunteers.

Hoyt Architects owner Gary Hoyt presents renderings and speaks during Wednesday's forum.

“The fact we don't have a public library is, I think, inappropriate,” Bishop said. “We are the only jurisdiction in Sarasota County that they haven't put a library in. So I think a public library is critical.”

Retired town commissioner and 35-year Longboat Key resident Gene Jaleski questioned the need for a new library and expressed his skepticism about the proposals.

“A small theater here will be a financial disaster. There is so much competition, and good entertainment, right across the bridge,” Jaleski said. “The people who go to dine, where are they going to dine here? Publix?”

Jaleski said commissioners “failed” on their promises to build a privately financed town center.

“This shouldn’t be happening,” Jaleski said. “It’s not representative of the community at all.”

For now, the town is finalizing a project with Gator Grading and Paving to do some initial improvements to the site’s outdoor space. Construction is scheduled to begin in April. 

Public works staff is compiling the feedback and hoping to present the town commission with a proposal on a way forward in April or May.

Anyone who could not attend Wednesday’s meeting can fill out an online survey to provide the town feedback.

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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.

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