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The missing piece

It’s exciting to envision a new arts, culture and education center as the centerpiece of a town center. Go for it. The $10 million question, of course, is the $10 million and more.

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  • | 11:00 a.m. December 15, 2016
The location of the Longboat Key Arts, Culture and Education Center is proposed to be built between Longboat’s Publix and the town’s public tennis center.
The location of the Longboat Key Arts, Culture and Education Center is proposed to be built between Longboat’s Publix and the town’s public tennis center.
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When billionaire entrepreneur Wayne Huizenga purchased 50% of what was then Dolphins Stadium in 1990, he said he looked at the stadium the way he looked at Waste Management’s garbage dumpsters.

Huizenga, you probably know, built Waste Management into a waste-hauling behemoth.

“I need people to keep filling their dumpsters over and over,” he said. When the dumpsters are full, Waste Management makes money.

New at being owner of the Miami Dolphins at the time, he said his big challenge with Dolphin Stadium was how to keep it full — how to put on events that would keep drawing people to fill the seats to pay for the operations and upkeep of the stadium and then some.

It was just another dumpster, but much bigger.

We share that story, not to dampen the spirits of the leaders of Ringling College of Art and Design, the Longboat Key Foundation and the Longboat Key Town Commission and administration. They have joined and are enthusiastically pursuing the idea of developing a Longboat Key Arts, Culture and Education Center to be built between Longboat’s Publix and the town’s public tennis center.

The vision is to make it the centerpiece of what could become a Longboat Key Town Center.

We shared the Huizenga-Dolphins Stadium story as a reality check — one, no doubt, that has crossed the minds of all the participants pursuing this exciting possibility.

To be sure, who on Longboat would not like a sleek, top-of-the-line multipurpose arts and culture center on Longboat Key? It’s a wonderful idea, wonderful vision on so many levels.

Scores of Longboaters can imagine how pleasant it would be not to have to face the traffic as they drive to downtown Sarasota or Bradenton for every show, concert, lecture or class. Or imagine one convenient place where you can combine the arts classes and galleries of the Longboat Key Center for the Arts with the educational offerings of the Longboat Key Education Center.

What’s more, for decades, Longboaters have yearned for a place to hold community meetings — rather than borrow Temple Beth Israel’s sanctuary or pull out the metal folding chairs for a candidate debate at the outmoded recreation center building at Bayfront Park.

And even though many Longboaters love the place and that it is almost a 65-year-old town institution, the Longboat Key Center for the Arts in Longbeach Village has outlived its buildings, its purpose and its location. Here it is, six-and-a-half decades after its founding and existence; and after thousands of Longboaters have taken art classes there; and after the Ringling School of Art and Design has operated it for the past nine years, there are still many, many Longboaters who cannot tell you where the art center is — or that it exists.

In their “case statement” advocating the development of this new center, the town and Ringling College say it’s time. The town “needs a place that engages the community, inspires creativity and instills an appreciation of culture for Longboat Key’s residents and visitors. In short, the town needs a center — a center located at the center of Longboat Key.”

“Needs” or “wants”?

You can argue that an arts, culture and educational center here is less of a need than it is a want. There are plenty of cultural, performing and educational venues throughout the region. The problem, as Longboaters know so well, is getting to them. That boosts the level of need.

At the same time, when you explore the history of the town, art and culture on the Key have been as much of an amenity as the gulf and bay have been since the early 1950s. Longboat Key pioneer Lora Whitney wrote extensively in her book, “Hail This Feisty Village,” about the many artists who visited here to paint and conduct art classes and exhibits at the Longboat Key Art Center. The center also often hosted small concerts.

Indeed, a new arts, culture and education center, as the centerpiece of a town center, would be the linchpin to making Longboat Key even more of a premier community than it already is. But everyone knows such a facility is fraught with challenges.

According to the memorandum of understanding between the town and Ringling College, the town would own the land and the physical facility. Ringling College would oversee construction and manage the facility.

The $10 million question (estimated cost of the project) is the money — to build it, operate it and maintain it. It’s probably safe to say there is not an art and cultural center in America that can cover its costs the way Wayne Huizenga’s dumpsters do — with patrons paying enough to fill the seats and make a profit.

Longboat Key residents would love to see a thriving arts and culture center as the centerpiece of a vibrant town center. Imagine how great that would be.

The land is there, and it’s paid for. The town purchased the property with ransom money it takes from developers. (They’re required to contribute to a town land acquisition-park fund as part of their approval process.) And there is seed money if Ringling College decides to sell the Center for the Arts property.

The challenge is funding the construction (bed tax revenue?) and building a philanthropically funded endowment to assure the center’s operations and maintenance in the event of inevitable shortfalls.

To be sure, Longboat Key has the human capital to figure out how to make it happen. Where there is a will, there is a way. 


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