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The Players CEO Michelle Bianchi Pingel and Artistic Director Jeffrey Kin announce the theater's move to become the centerpiece of the Waterside at Lakewood Ranch's town center.
East County Monday, May 2, 2016 5 years ago

Players Theatre announces move from Sarasota to Lakewood Ranch

New Players Centre for Performing Arts will anchor Waterside's town center.
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

On Monday evening at Michael's Wine Cellar in Sarasota, Players Theatre CEO Michelle Bianchi Pingel announced a new act for "that old theater."

Schroeder-Manatee Ranch has forged a deal, signed Monday morning, to bring The Players Centre For Performing Arts to the new Waterside at Lakewood Ranch development.

Bianchi Pingel said the current Players Theatre property, at 838 N. Tamiami Trail in Sarasota, has been put on the market for $12.5 million. The 1.77-acre parcel has what Bianchi Pingel said is the "last unobstructed view of the bay."

The Players Theatre owns the property outright, so the money for the sale will be used to buy a 4.5-acre parcel and build in what will become Waterside's town center.

The Players Centre for the Performing Arts will have three performance spaces in its new location, while also anchoring the town center of Lakewood Ranch's Waterside development.

"This is the entertainment venue we've been longing for," said Schroeder-Manatee Ranch President and CEO Rex Jensen. "This is going to spark our town center. It will add to the kind of lifestyle we offer."

Jensen said The Players Theatre was a perfect fit for the new community.

"We could have attracted a lot of (theaters) if we wanted to pay for everything," Jensen said. "This one is a premier theater that has been around for (86) years. It has viability and durability. It is gratifying for us to get this quality of an organization."

Players Artistic Director Jeffery Kin outlined some key points for those who attended the press conference, which also announced the theater was starting a $25 million capital fundraising campaign.

Kin said the theater's current property will be attractive to builders, who can go 18 stories high in construction in the front of the parcel and up to five stories in the back overlooking the water. The money from the sale is needed because the Lakewood Ranch property is ambitious.

The land purchase is $750,000 and the estimated cost of construction of The Players Centre for Performing Arts is $8 million to $12 million. The new building, which Bianchi Pingel said would be approximately 55,000 square feet, will house a 480-seat main stage auditorium with balcony seating, a 125-seat "Black BoxTheatre," a 100-seat cabaret theatre that will serve lunch and dinner and the main campus of The Arnold Simonsen Players Studio, which is the education art of the organization. The land will include 300 parking spaces.

The Players Centre for Performing Arts will build a new facility on 4.5 acres in Lakewood Ranch's new Waterside development north of Fruitville Road and east of Interstate 75

Jensen said Schroeder-Manatee Ranch is ready to host The Players, who have not chosen an architect yet for the project. "We now have 24,000 residents on site," he said of the Lakewood Ranch community.

The Waterside addition is scheduled to add another 5,000 homes with people expected to start moving into the development in 2017. Kin said The Players hopes to complete the sale of its property along with the first phase of construction of the new theater in three years. The theater will continue production at its current site until the new owner needs to begin development.

Bianchi Pingel said it was a necessary move.

"We are property rich and cash poor," she said. "Our electrical is a nightmare, our air conditioning is going. In the 15 years I have been here, we have put as much money into this facility as we are going to do."

Kin said a new air conditioning system would have cost $500,000 and the roof and the seats at the theater need to be replaced.

"And the massive construction going on has limited our parking," he said. "All roads pointed to us moving."

In addition, Bianchi Pingel said the theater showed the move out east would actually put it closer to its patrons. She said a ZIP-code study of patrons found that only 2.6% of them come from the barrier islands, 14.9% come from inside Sarasota's city limits and 28.5% came from the I-75 corridor. "So it was a no-brainer," she said.

Bianchi Pingel said the theater's current board was willing to "take the bull by the horns." The last year and a half has been planning that led up to Monday's announcement.

According to Bianchi Pingel, the project could not have worked without the cooperation of Jensen and his staff. "Rex was instrumental in bringing Lakewood Ranch and his friends to us," she said. "They have been great."

The Players is hoping to get a huge boost through "naming rights" of the new theaters and the building. "Sarasota is a big naming town," Bianchi Pingel said.

The new The Players Centre for Performing Arts already has joined the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance.

"This is going to round out an incredible community," said Heather Kasten, the executive director of the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance. "The whole cultural piece of the puzzle was missing. It is a feather in Lakewood Ranch's cap and it is going to bring people to the community."

The theater opened in 1930 with a series of one-act plays. It has been at its current site for 40 years. It is the oldest community theater in Sarasota and the second oldest in Florida.

"Our mission will stay the same," Bianchi Pingel said. "We just want to allow for growth and we want to have more performances. We want to increase the classes at our school."

Although Bianchi Pingel said some theater patrons "are going to have a heart attack," when they learn of the move, she also said a new theater would bring energy to the community.

"Now we're that old theater," she said. "That's grandma's theater."

Players Advisory Board member Barbara Johnson has been connected with the theater since she was a sophomore at Sarasota High School in 1952. She said the move to Lakewood Ranch should be exciting, and not that big a deal.

"It's not that far," she said. "It's just right."



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