Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Longboat leaders will try again on art center memo

Commission again rejects memorandum of understanding with Ringling College over Arts, Culture and Education Center, aims to keep working on wording.

  • By
  • | 11:09 a.m. April 8, 2019
Work to demolish Amore is nearly complete, and the town is waiting for word on land-permitting before moving ahead with site preparation.
Work to demolish Amore is nearly complete, and the town is waiting for word on land-permitting before moving ahead with site preparation.
  • Longboat Key
  • News
  • Share

Commissioners later this month likely will again look at a revised document intended to form the basic framework of a relationship between the town and Ringling College of Art and Design over Longboat Key’s pursuit of its proposed Arts, Culture and Education Center.

The memorandum of understanding, which commissioners voted 4-3 on Monday to send back for more work, would act as a document “that memorialized the collaborative relationship and approach the town and Ringling would take to create, establish and maintain the center on Longboat Key.”

The document also would make clear more detailed plans and agreements would follow “as funding sources and plans were further developed by the parties.”

Commissioners on April 1 asked for a previous version to be sent back for revision. The document rejected Monday was the result of the previous revision request.

Town Manager Tom Harmer said he’d likely pull together individual commissioners’ viewpoints to inform changes to the memorandum, and bring back a new version for discussion at a workshop meeting on April 15. From there, additional revisions could be made if needed before it reappears at a future public meeting for a vote. “It would be my hope we could get closer,” he said.

The Arts, Culture and Education Center is a long-standing goal of the town and a key piece of a Town Center concept in the neighborhood surrounding Town Hall, the Public Tennis Center and the Shoppes of Bay Isles. Exhibits, performances and classes would form the basis of its use, under the management of Ringling College. The design and construction of the center would be financed through private donations, and it would be the financial responsibility of Ringling to operate the facility. The town would own the land and the buildings.

While 2 acres was publicly purchased in early 2017 for $2.2 million on the site of the former Amore restaurant, no tax money is intended to be spent on the project. Ringling has estimated the center would cost about $11.3 million to design, build and outfit, and that private fundraising might take three years to accomplish. That’s down from an estimated $18 million project, which was discarded earlier this year when Ringling officials cast doubt on the likelihood of raising that total. A proposed black-box theater was deleted from the plan.

These new parameters prompted the creation of a new memorandum of understanding.

And though commissioners disagreed on Monday over some wording and broader messaging, there was a consensus that town leaders want to keep pushing forward and ultimately land on language that appeals to a majority.

“Let’s figure out what’s holding us back and go out and get it,” Commissioner Mike Haycock said.

Vice Mayor Ed Zunz said he was most concerned with an appearance that the town presented the memorandum for a vote too quickly and had not gone far enough to optimize the document, calling it “tentative.” He pointed to a provision that allows either party to back out of the arrangement with 90 days’ notice. Commissioners Randy Clair and Irwin Pastor also voiced concerns.

“That seems entirely inconsistent with the speed with which other parts of the agreement seem to want to proceed,” he said.

Among the other factors he questioned:

  • The feasibility of a 3,000-square-foot multi-purpose room, and its ultimate uses;
  • A better understanding of how and why the Longboat Key Center for the Arts, which closed in 2017 on the north end of the island, struggled financially;
  • How the center’s offerings will mesh with those of the Longboat Key Education Center, which took over some of the former arts center’s functions. Zunz was concerned about competition, though an agreement between Ringling and the Longboat Key Education Center exists.

“I don’t think we should rush forward and spend a couple years in fundraising and persuade people to contribute all this money and then it will come back to us and we’ll say, ‘OK, let’s take a look at this now, and gee, it maybe isn’t going to work out the way we hoped,’” he said.

Former Commissioner Jim Brown, who has been helping the town with the project for years while in office and now as a private citizen, said maintaining momentum and remaining positive is important. There will be plenty of time to settle questions about architecture,  programming and more detailed matters.

“If we want pottery in this building, then let’s negotiate pottery in this building, but let’s don’t kill the golden goose,” he said.

Commissioners also wanted to know how a proposed open green space, to be created on the land intended for the Arts, Culture and Education Center, could be used and in some way meshed with the construction of final building.

That space is in the early stages of planning as the former Amore restaurant is demolished. Once land permitting is completed, the town intends to build the open-air green space and use it in the interim while money is raised. The hope is a portion of the green space could be incorporated into the final design and end up as a useful addition to the building.

 “I would feel more comfortable moving ahead if we had an agreement on that,” Mayor George Spoll said.

Members of the public on Monday called for the green space idea, which is tentatively expected to be finished in the fall, to be upgraded into something, perhaps, with more permament facilities such as a shade structure and rigging for lights and sound gear to attract a broader segment of performances or events.

Brown said such a site could show residents and potential donors about the potential of the Arts, Culture and Education Center.




Latest News