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East County Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018 2 years ago

Players won't be 'missing tooth' in Lakewood Ranch's Waterside Place

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Sale of existing theater means The Players can build simultaneously with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch.
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

It was a few days before the Players Centre for Performing Arts announced an agreement Jan. 16 to sell its Sarasota theater for more than the listing price of $9.5 million dollars.

Kirk Boylston, the president of Lakewood Ranch Commercial, was talking about construction at the new Waterside Place. He made it clear everything was going full speed ahead whether or not The Players had raised enough money to begin construction on its planned $30 million complex.

"We're not waiting," Boylston said.

It appears the point is now moot.

Waterside Place, planned as the hub of the Waterside at Lakewood Ranch community, is scheduled to open early in 2020.

"They are not going to have the 'missing tooth,'" said Players Managing Director Michelle Bianchi.

Bianchi said The Players will go to financial institutions to find out ways it can leverage the money from its sale, which went to an undisclosed party. She said once Schroeder-Manatee Ranch finishes the infrastructure of Waterside Place and begins working on the buildings, The Players will be building its $10 million Phase 1 of its complex right alongside SMR.

She noted SMR has made some changes to its original site plans for Waterside Place so her architects will meet with the developer Jan. 31 to be "brought up to speed" on the project.

The Phase 1 of the complex includes a 100-seat cabaret theater with dining and will be the main campus of The Arnold Simonsen Players Studio, which is the education arm of the organization. Bianchi said Phase 1 constitutes one side of the complex, so the next two phases will flow off the side of the existing structure on the 4.5-acre lot.

Bianchi said she expects fundraising to greatly increase after Phase 1 opens because "people have a hard time with a concept."

In the meantime, The Players will finish up its next season, which runs through the spring of 2019, in Sarasota while planning its move. A transition team has been formed and responsibilities will be divided into "quadrants" such as box office, sound equipment, archives and costumes. Each area will have a team that will seek out storage.

"It is a monumental task," said Bianchi, who said they need to decide what to store, what to move and what to sell.

The Players also is seeking a temporary home in, or near, Lakewood Ranch for storage or to host productions.

Monaca Onstad, director of community relations at Lakewood Ranch, said "Theater in the Field" by The Players will continue and she hopes that always includes "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," which ran in October at the Sarasota Polo Club.

"I want my child to remember that he went to 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,'" she said.

Onstad said the children's Storytelling Theater at the Ranch (STAR) program, presented by The Players, will continue as well. She said the program will begin again in the spring, before the end of school.

She also said other arts organizations have been contacting her about coming to Lakewood Ranch since The Players announced it was moving to Waterside Place.

"They have been asking me, 'What can we do to connect?" Onstad said. "This brings us another level of lifestyle."

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