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Longboat Key Wednesday, Mar. 6, 2019 2 months ago

New site for the center?

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It makes sense to leave out the black box theater. A new location may make sense, too.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

Smart move.

As time passed, it appeared more and more inevitable that the best decision for the Town Commission was to scale back the vision for the town’s proposed Arts, Culture and Education center and drop the idea of including a black box theater.

And that’s what the commissioners did Monday night at their monthly meeting.

The cost was totally unpalatable for Longboaters: $18 million — and potential donors. And there were just too many obstacles and issues that made the inclusion of a black box theater impractical:

  • Ringling College of Art and Design, the town’s partners in this venture, didn’t want to operate a black box theater.
  • Managing a theater and booking shows, to be sure, are not in the town’s core competencies. It’s easy to envision that theater becoming a money-sucking “black elephant” unable to attract shows and audiences that would keep it from becoming a financial black hole.
  • And this, which we have cited before: We’ve always thought it highly implausible the town, Ringling College or the Longboat Key Foundation would be able to tap enough philanthropists to fund $18 million — especially as so many other arts organizations and nonprofit social service organizations are undergoing their own major capital campaigns or thinking of one. 

You know the list: Mote Marine Laboratory, Marie Selby Gardens, The Bay, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Van Wezel Performing Arts Center, Sarasota Orchestra, Sarasota Ballet and on and on. 

There is only so much to go around. Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine Longboat philanthropists diverting funds from those organizations that make Sarasota’s cultural offerings so rich for a minor venue on the Key.

Having shelved the black box theater for the time being, the Town Commission and Ringling College believe they can raise $11 million in private money for an arts, culture and education center.

At the risk of sounding like a Negative Nabob, even that seems like a stretch. We’ll see.

But before fundraising begins in earnest, and as you envision a taxpayer-owned arts, culture and education center on the site of the razed Amore restaurant property, perhaps it’s worth considering an alternative.

 Here goes: 

Sell the Amore property. Relocate the center to the under-utilized site of the Longboat Key Library and the four northern Longboat Key Public Tennis Center courts. Relocate the four courts to be contiguous to the existing courts.

Why? Putting the arts center next to Town Hall would create a contiguous town-government complex. The town owns the land. And while there would be a cost in relocating the four courts, the town could defray some of the cost of developing the arts center by selling the Amore property.

It just seems to make sense to cluster the town’s assets.

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