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In the meantime . . .

Longboat pushes ahead to create a temporary event site while fundraising progresses on proposed Arts, Culture and Education Center.

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  • | 9:30 a.m. October 3, 2018
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While Ringling College of Art and Design is in the process of raising the $18 million needed to construct the Longboat Key Arts, Culture and Education Center, the town is working on another plan for the site, albeit a temporary one.

Longboat Key officials are developing a plan that would transform the property where the Amore Restaurant once operated into an outdoor space, where events such as concerts or art shows could be held. The town bought the Amore site in January 2017 for $2.2 million. The restaurant moved to the Burns Court area of downtown Sarasota.

“We would demolish the Amore building,” said Town Manager Tom Harmer. “We would then smooth out the site and put pavers in.”

Longboat Key’s Public Works Department is working with George F. Young Inc., a St. Petersburg engineering company, on site plans. Longboat received $400,000 from Sarasota County to demolish the former restaurant and transform it into green space.

Harmer said a temporary stage could be brought in for concerts, or movies for town residents. There are no plans to build anything permanent at the location, where a low-grade wetland site will have to be mitigated before any work can begin.

“Because it is going to take a while to get project done, having the Amore building removed and having interim space is a great idea,” said Commissioner Ken Schneier. “It will be a good use of that space.”

Commissioner Jim Brown agreed.

“Ringling’s plans won’t come to fruition for a few years,” Brown said. “The site was just sitting there, so we might as well use it.”

When the planned Ringling center gets constructed — by 2023 on Ringling’s timeline — it will include classroom space, a theater, mechanical and technology rooms and a courtyard that would separate the two buildings.

A memorandum of understanding, which outlines the details of the project between the town and Ringling, is in the process of being finalized.

By locating the facility in Town Center, Longboat and Ringling officials hope it will be more accessible to residents and visitors than the former Longboat Key Center for the Arts, which was located in the Longbeach Village neighborhood at the northern end of the Key. 

That property was purchased last year by developer Jim Claubaugh, who is building The Preserve, a residential development of a dozen, $1 million-plus, single-family homes.

Raising the necessary funds to construct the new center is a priority for Ringling College. President Larry Thompson said before work begins, the entire project cost — $18 million — needs to be raised.

The Longboat Key Foundation, which has headed the cultural center efforts, plans to raise most of the money to pay for the construction of the center through philanthropy and endowments.

“Requiring this is an issue, but it is the only way to effectively deal with a project where fundraising is the only source of funding,” Thompson said in an email.

Thompson confirmed he has spoken with “20-to-30” prospective lead project donors, all of whom have a high net worth.

“Yes, most were high-net worth, but others were individuals who have been advocating for such a center,” he said. 

“The idea is to gauge the interest in support for the center and to learn what they would like to see the center be.”

Brown said Longboat Key is a good place to find project donors.

“There are a lot of people here who are capable of making large contributions,” he said.

Naming rights also may play a role funding the center, Thompson said.

“Yes, there will be opportunities for us to recognize donors in appreciation of their gifts that enable the construction of the center. Those opportunities will include naming rights,” he said.

Once construction of the center is complete, the town would lease the site to Ringling College on a long-term basis. The college would be responsible for operations.

“I know Larry Thompson and he has done a tremendous job at Ringling College,” Schneier said. “He makes things happen.”

Brown, too, is optimistic about the center, which he said will help bolster the Key’s cultural offerings.

“I have been approached by theater groups in Sarasota about bringing productions out here,” he said.


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