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Longboat Key Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022 6 days ago

Town enters contract for stage construction, talks plans for community center

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Phase two of the stage on the Town Center Green property has begun as private donations close the funding gap.
by: Lauren Tronstad Staff Writer

The town has entered into its contract to begin construction of the stage in the town’s soon-to-be updated town center. 

After private donations closed the gap on the final amount needed to fund the center’s stage, phase two of the project has started. 

Since acquiring the private donations, Town Manager Tom Harmer has signed the contract with Jon F. Swift Construction of Sarasota to begin the purchasing of materials and completing the final design. 

The completion date of the project is not yet known as the arrival of materials will play a large factor in the beginning of physical construction, Harmer said.

Harmer and Swift representatives intend to talk within the next two weeks about a project timeline. 

Without the additional funding, the town would have moved forward with the project and removed the stage from its final design plans. 

“We were going to be full-steam ahead with just the site work if the private sector residents didn’t step forward to fund the stage,” Harmer said. “They did, and they did it in a very quick fashion.”

Originally, the town had anticipated the project would cost about $500,000. One couple, Paul and Sarah Karon, opted to donate the entirety of that amount. 

However, after going out to bids, the final total came back to the town at about $860,000. 

The Town Commission called on residents of the town to make up the needed funding, if the stage was important to them. 

The remaining money was raised with the help of about 12 other individuals. 

The individuals are protected with anonymity by the Longboat Key Foundation, which collected the donations. A plaque is planned that will reveal the names of donors who do not wish to remain anonymous at a later date, foundation Chair Jim Brown wrote in an email. 

Site work for the town center is town-funded with about $530,000, which included $445,000 from the town’s land-acquisition fund. Work includes raising and re-grading the site with fill. Additional stormwater infrastructure will be installed to accommodate site work and anticipated future buildings. The town’s portion is funding walkways, streetlights, landscaping and space for food trucks. 

Another component of the project, which was recommended to the town by the Urban Land Institute over a decade ago, is a community center. 

The center is another portion of the institute’s recommendations to create a centralized place for the entire island to gather. The location of the town center was chosen based on the locations of the Town Hall, post office and Publix grocery store. 

“I think in (the institute’s) initial sketches, they thought there might be more private development of shops and retails, but it has evolved to a focus on a community center, educational programs and events,” Harmer said. 

The center is in the works of design and finding partners with which to receive funding. Some potential partners include Sarasota County, Manatee County, Sarasota County School Board and Manatee County School Board. 

Sarasota County has already pitched in $1 million in its next fiscal year's budget, which will become available in October if passed as proposed. The funding will aid in covering design costs for the space. 

Discussions are still ongoing with Manatee County and with both county school boards for further participation with the town and potential uses of the proposed building. 

“What we would expect is that the (architectural planning firm) will come out here and hold a public planning process,” Harmer said. “They would invite the stakeholders and the public and go through a couple of iterations before going to commissioners and town staff to be involved.”

The parcel where the community center would be located measures about 11,200 square feet.

The hope for the community center space is to include a library as the core component, meeting rooms and classrooms and a large multipurpose space. 

Similar spaces that are acting as models for the project are the North Port Library and Venice Library. 

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