Longboat leaders urge caution in moving ahead with building proposals.
As the town works through a matrix of possibilities involving its open-space site, a proposed Arts, Cultural and Education Center and various recreation options, a new variable has been added.
Bayfront Park’s Recreation Center isn’t getting any younger.
Although no money is in Longboat Key’s five-year capital budget to build it, town leaders have begun talking about what it might take to someday replace the structure donated in 1984 and moved to the site by Dr. Murray “Murf” Klauber and about what its role might be.
Concerns about planning something that could end up overlapping or duplicating another building or facility is top of mind for town commissioners, who advocate for public input, careful steps and clearly defined uses. Town leaders are still working their way through where the Arts, Culture and Education Center idea is headed, now that Ringling College has stepped back from its relationship with the town.
Also a concern is altering the layout of Bayfront Park, which has drawn rave reviews for its design and features.
“We’ve got this big bowl of soup,” Mayor George Spoll said.
The current building, with a single multipurpose space of about 1,400 square feet one flight up, isn’t ideal, said Public Works Director Isaac Brownman.
It can host one event at a time in its main room, which makes scheduling tricky. Additionally, building code concerns, wind-resistance issues and accessibility realities (there is no elevator) make the building expensive to renovate, though no cost estimates exist for new construction.
For that reason, Wannemacher Jensen Architects submitted two conceptual floor plans designed to open up space and scheduling options on one of two Bayfront Park sites: the current footprint and the one across the street, closer to the bay.
At their largest configurations, the two concepts offer about 8,800 square feet, with several rooms that allow for simultaneous events. The largest room in the concept is suitable for tables and chairs for 200 people or for as many as 400 standing. The architect also allowed for the possibility of smaller rooms and deleted features.
Wedding receptions, classes, gatherings, exercise sessions and more are possible, but as the offerings begin approaching those once available at the Longboat Key Center for the Arts, that’s when caution flags fly.
“It would seem to make sense to look at the plan as two separate buildings planned at the same time,” Vice Mayor Ed Zunz said.
“We certainly don’t want to build redundancy,” Brownman said.
Former Mayor Jim Brown, speaking from his experience in public life, said it would be wise to think carefully about where things go from here, based on previous efforts to remake the Recreation Center, which lost at the ballot box in March 2004.
“All I see from what has been produced is a cultural center built in the park,” he said of the concept plans. “This was supposed to be a recreation center. There’s not a recreational element about it.”
He advocated to keep recreation in the park but also to listen to the town about what the citizens want before moving ahead.
“I just think we need to stop, put together some kind of committee as we did before and decide where we ought to go and help advise the commission on what should be in the park and what should be in the cultural center,” he said. “But I think we’re going in the wrong direction, and we’re spending money we shouldn’t be spending.”
Spoll and other commissioners agreed, saying there is an answer to the patchwork of needs and possibilities. The trick is to find it.
“We owe it to ourselves to look at the broad picture before we jump ahead, but there are many possibilities here,” Spoll said. “And we ought to slow down and look at what belongs where, for what it’s worth.”