Warren Simonds has seen Longboat Key “grow up.”
Simonds, who serves on the Longboat Key Foundation’s board of advisers, came to the island in 1972 as a 26-year-old banker. He said he “fell in love” with the town back then, and his feelings never faltered.
Now, Simonds is focused on a project he’s particularly passionate about — The Longboat Key Center for the Arts, Culture and Education.
The Longboat Key Foundation is spearheading efforts to raise money to construct the 40,000-square-foot facility, which is expected to include a 299-seat black box theater and house art classes, galleries and events. Simonds serves as the project’s task force chairman.
Ringling College will manage programming at the center, and the town will own the property. The foundation’s primary responsibility in making the $17 million facility a reality is raising the money. The town has already contributed $5 million to the project, and Ringling College representatives have said the school will also make a contribution, though an exact amount has not yet been determined.
We talked with Simonds to chat about the status of the project and the plan to raise the remaining $12 million.
Why are you so passionate about this project?
I think that it’s going to change the Key for the better. Not that Longboat Key’s not (already) special, it is.
Longboat Key’s been going through some relatively interesting changes lately, and has over the past. Between what Ocean Properties is going to do at the south end, the remodel of the new Zota Hotel, the undergrounding ... All these things are really making positive changes to Longboat Key. I think (the cultural center) could be one of the most positive changes for the future.
What benefits will this type of facility bring to the community?
Well, of course I think one of the primary benefits that people have talked about is that it will lessen the need to leave the island. That is a big one, particularly in season. It also will, in my opinion, make the Key one of the most special places in Florida.
What kind of effect do you think this facility will have on property values on the Key?
An arts and cultural center on the Key is going to increase property values. It’s going to really increase the reputation of Longboat Key throughout Florida and throughout the country, I think. People come down here already and know Longboat Key is a wonderful, special place. But, to have something like that here, available ... I think it’s going to make a huge difference.
Can you talk about the fundraising process?
The fundraising for this is going to be primarily the responsibility of the Longboat Key Foundation and, specifically, a task force that’s been formed to do the fundraising. We have some wonderful people on our task force, and we have acquired the services, starting in September, of a professional fundraiser (Amy Sankes). She will be working in conjunction with us and with Ringling College to raise the funds that we need.
On Sept. 22, we will have the first strategic planning meeting of our fundraising task force.
You’ve mentioned that naming opportunities are a possibility?
As we begin the fundraising, part of the fundraising plan, I’m sure, will be identifying certain parts of the building, certain sections of the building, or the building itself, for naming opportunities. We know that a lot of people have loved ones and they would like to honor them by putting their name on a building. We see that in other places throughout Sarasota and Manatee county. We certainly will identify those naming opportunities.
You’ve also spoken of the center as a “sustainable” facility. Can you elaborate?
One thing to consider, and this will be, again, not within the purview of the Longboat Key Foundation, but within the purview of Ringling College and the town, since the town will own the building and Ringling will operate it. (When it comes to) the construction of the building, we could look at sustainable construction and really protect our environment and also create some lower operating costs for the building. An example of that would be solar power. Obviously we have a lot of sun down here.
This is something that the architects, designers and engineers will need to look into, but it’s something to be considered because this will be a 50-year-plus building for Longboat Key, and this will benefit not only people like myself who are up in years, but it will also benefit the kids, the grandkids and the great grandkids.
How do you feel about the Town Commission and future Town Manager Tom Harmer’s ability to execute this project?
First of all, I’d like to really commend Dave Bullock. Dave’s been a tremendous town manager, and Dave has been very supportive of this particular endeavor since we started. I’ve already talked to Tom Harmer about this, and Tom is very, very supportive of it, too.
This is one of the most farsighted commissions, in terms of looking out into the future of Longboat Key, we’ve ever had. And I commend them for that.
Any parting thoughts?
Just that we are very, very enthusiastic about this, and I appreciate the enthusiasm of all the people at the town: Dave Bullock, (Planning, Zoning and Building Director) Alaina Ray, and all the commissioners, and certainly the people at Ringling College. I think this is a unique win-win-win situation, a true public-private partnership that’s going to benefit an awful lot of people for a long time to come.
Numbers to remember
$17 million: Estimated cost of facility
$5 million: Contribution from town of Longboat Key
$0: Tax money devoted to project
40,000: Square feet of proposed center
299: Seats in proposed black box theater
Key facts, dates
The town will own the The Longboat Key Center for the Arts, Culture and Education. Ringling College will manage its programming.
A professional fundraiser has been hired by the Longboat Key Foundation to spearhead its campaign.
First strategic planning meeting of fundraising tax force is planned for Sept. 22.
Naming rights for the facility, or its portions, are possible as part of fundraising.
Why the former Amore property?
When the Town Commission in January narrowly approved the $2.2 million purchase of the former Amore Restaurant and its 2 acres, it was to offer a better frontage and entrance for the cultural center, as well as more opportunities to add parking — Amore has 89 parking spaces. Also, the additional land would allow for water features and an outdoor venue, Longboat Key Foundation Arts, Culture and Education Building Task Force Chairman Warren Simonds said at the time.