The Longboat Key Center for the Arts will close at the end of May, according to a letter from Larry R. Thompson, President of Ringling College of Art and Design, released by the college last week.
The 2.3-acre site where the center sits will be sold to a private developer who intends to construct single-family housing.
Thompson told The Observer that the property is currently under contract, but Ringling College is not yet ready to identify the buyer or the agreed-upon sales price. There is no set closing date on the property, Thompson said, but he expects it will be within the next two months. Also undecided is a plan to address the time gap between the closing of the Center of the Arts and the opening, possibly as late as 2020, of the proposed Longboat Key Center for the Arts, Culture and Education.
The college intends to use a portion of the money made from the sale of the facility to support the construction of a new cultural center, Thompson said.
“It’s our intention that a major part of those funds would go toward the development of a new center,” Thompson said.
The cultural center will be located in the Town Center, a more accessible location for most Key residents than the current facility, which is located at the north end of the Key.
This cultural center is a collaboration between Ringling College and the town of Longboat Key. Originally planned for 2.8 acres, the site was recently expanded by another two acres with the town's purchase of the adjacent Amore restaurant site.
The Longboat Key Foundation, which has spearheaded the cultural center efforts, plans to help raise most of the money to fund construction of the building through philanthropy and potentially seeking endowments to supplement operating costs.
The foundation’s Warren Simonds, the cultural center’s Task Force Chairman, imagines the new facility as being “very modern, very striking,” likening it in terms of design to Ringling College’s Alfred R. Goldstein Library, which opened in January.
Simonds compared the foundation’s vision for the project to the way John Ringling envisioned what the Key could be in the 1920s.
“This is a new vision for Longboat Key,” Simonds said.
Simonds hopes the cultural center will have a space for events such as weddings, offer classes in subjects such as drawing, jewelry-making and culinary arts, as well as house a black box theater with seating for 200 to 300 people.
The cultural center could help increase property values on the Key, Simonds said, and he also expects it could help decrease traffic on the Key because residents will no longer need to travel off-island for services the facility will offer.
“It will be a true community asset,” Simonds said.
Simonds hopes to announce its fundraising plans within the next few weeks, and construction of the project will not begin until finances are certain.
“You’re not going to see a shovel in the dirt until we get all the money raised,” Simonds said.
The Longboat Key Foundation hosted an informational meeting about the cultural center on Saturday evening at Islands West Condos. After Simonds gave a presentation, residents like Roz Rothman were enthusiastic for the project’s completion.
“It’s so wonderful. I’m so excited,” Rothman said. “I hope we get a theater.”
Simonds appreciates Ringling College’s intention to contribute a portion of the sale of the current center to funding the project.
“That would be really wonderful if they could do that,” he said.
According to Thompson, a small portion from the sale of the current center will be used to make up for losses the college experienced while operating the Longboat Key Center for the Arts.
Taking the fundraising process and the length of construction into consideration, Thompson said the cultural center could be completed within the next two to three years.
Simonds estimated, after funds are raised, designing the facility could take about eight months, and the subsequent construction could take about 14 months. No firm fundraising target has been set, but Simonds has estimated the figure at about $10 million-$12 million.
Thompson said discussions have begun on interim plans for the events and programs currently offered at the Center for the Arts, but no firm plans are ready for announcement.
Representatives of Ringling College and Key town staff presented the Town Commission with a pre-construction agreement for the cultural center on Tuesday.
The agreement assigns responsibilities moving forward to each party. Ringling’s responsibilities will include the development and proposal of a preliminary design and programming plan, while the Town will be tasked with conducting a timely review of the proposal, among other duties. The two parties will jointly prepare a proposal for operations at the center, according to the agreement.
Assistant Town Manager Mike Hein said he looks forward to Ringling College and town staff working together on the project.
“It’s an exciting opportunity for the community,” he said.
Mayor Terry Gans echoed Hein’s anticipation for the cultural center, which he said he hopes will provide members of the community with a place to get together for decades to come. The mayor also praised Ringling College for the institution’s ability to manage operations at the cultural center and provide quality programs to Key residents.
“I couldn’t be more enthusiastic,” Gans said. “But we have a long way to go.”