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Theater concept takes center stage on Longboat

The Longboat Key Foundation will soon launch a fundraising campaign for a multipurpose theater on the island.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. June 15, 2016
Tom Aposporos, David Brenner and Bob Simmons stand in front of — what they hope is — the future site of a black box theater.
Tom Aposporos, David Brenner and Bob Simmons stand in front of — what they hope is — the future site of a black box theater.
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Despite a scope that encompasses parks and recreation, health and safety and transportation — among a litany of other areas — the Longboat Key Foundation is thinking inside the box — a black box, that is.

The foundation, technically an advisory board affiliated with the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, has assembled a task force aimed at building a black box theater on the 2.8-acre parcel of land the town purchased for $1.5 million in 2014. It would serve as an anchor for a cultural and town center on the island. And it has a prominent champion for the cause: local theater director Bob Trisoloni, a Longboat Key resident.

A black box theater is a multipurpose performance space than can quickly and efficiently be transitioned into an auditorium for a variety of types of shows. Chairs are free-standing to allow for more room depending on the show.

The Urbanite Theater downtown is similar, but its shows are much more edgy than what would take place at a Longboat theater, Trisolini said. The Free Fall Theater in St. Petersburg is the guiding example for the concept. 

The theater could feature everything from a cabaret to a TED talk to a lifelong learning program or touring play.

"I was honored and thrilled to be included, because I live on Longboat Key to begin with, and I think it's something that's so well needed here," Trisoloni said. "So, we're hopefully getting ready to fill a lot of the hopes and desires of people who live here."

As Bob Simmons, former Mayor David Brenner and Tom Aposporos discussed plans over breakfast at The Resort at Longboat Key Club last week, they expressed excitement about the undertaking.

The black box theater plan is part of the foundation's goal of bringing self-sufficiency to the island, allowing residents to break free from seasonal traffic and enjoy amenities and services on the island.

The black box theater would be just another piece in the foundation’s push for self-sufficiency on the island. Traffic this season was a big wake-up call for residents, Brenner said, and should prompt leaders to start considering other amenities that would allow property owners, renters or tourists to stay on the Key.

The foundation is already celebrating the success of the Longboat Key Center for Healthy Living, which opened March 31.

“At the outset, a lot of people thought we were crazed in trying to push the concept of a medical center on the Key,” Aposporos said.

But with more than $650,000 already raised in support of the $1.6 million medical facility, the foundation believes residents will embrace the black box idea.

“We will follow the same successful formula as we did with the medical center,” Simmons said. “We’ve had nothing but positive feedback.”

“Timing is everything and certainly people have noticed how much time it takes to traverse off the island,” Aposporos said. “And to the extent that we through our initiatives are able to make Longboat Key more self-sufficient, the better off it will be for anyone who resides here.” 

The plan is not without challenges, though.

A 4-foot-wide creek that snakes through the vacant land east of Publix could prove challenging to work around. But the town has earmarked $200,000 for site work to determine what the land could hold.

“The land can support a physical structure,” Aposporos said. “What goes into that structure, in some respects, determines how successful the land is in holding all of that.” 

Further, because of the challenges with uncertainty about the land, costs are not clear. As it did with the medical center, the foundation has started crafting a statement of community need for the venue, though the first draft was too detailed, and the second was too vague, Aposporos said.

Trisolini said such a venue could have between 200 and 400 seats.

But Town Manager Dave Bullock said he’s confident with the foundation members in behind the town center plan.

“I enjoy working with the foundation.” Bullock said. “It’s a group of really good people who truly have the town in their heart, and it's nice to work with folks like that who are not only like that philosophically but put that into tangible results.”

Brenner said the trio has learned a great deal from planning the medical center, such as the need to get started immediately on forming a 501(3)c for the initiative.

“Because, God bless the IRS, you don’t know how long its going to take,” Brenner said. “If we’re going to do this, let’s get the wheels turning.”


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