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Brown: Longboat theater talk is encouraging

Commissioner works to find new strategies to raising $18 million privately for art center project.

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  • | 4:30 p.m. February 20, 2019
Commissioner Jim Brown leading efforts to fund Arts, Culture and Education Center
Commissioner Jim Brown leading efforts to fund Arts, Culture and Education Center
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Commissioner Jim Brown said he has received encouraging feedback from people about keeping a black box theater in the design of the town’s proposed Arts, Culture and Education Center.

Now, how to pay for it?

Brown, who has less than a month remaining as an elected official, is working on strategies to raise approximately $18 million through private sources to build the center with the theater as originally envisioned.

Last month, town officials were told by Ringling College of Art and Design President Larry Thompson, working with the town on the arts center proposal through a memorandum of understanding, that there were doubts such an amount could be raised. He suggested $10 million to $11 million was reasonable, and the theater might have to be initially deleted from consideration and added as a second phase.

Ringling has proposed beginning fundraising with the lower goal in mind and add the theater space later, or shift gears if a donor comes forward to accelerate that portion of the plan. The college has developed donor materials and is waiting to hear from the town regarding the next step.

In the meantime, the town is proceeding with plans to demolish the former Amore restaurant building on land purchased in 2017 adjacent to the arts center site near the Shoppes at Bay Isles. That’s expected to begin Feb. 21 and take about two months. The land purchase, for $2.2 million in early 2017, is the only public expenditure connected to the proposal. A demolition permit has been granted for the project.

“It’s been positive,” said Brown of his talks with people in the arts and fundraising community such as the Sarasota Ballet and the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

Brown said there are also discussions about going back to the project architect to see if there is a way to cut costs. Based on his talks so far, Brown said he’s heard a theater is needed. Some have gone as far as to suggest putting in a movie screen to broaden the range of its uses.

“It could be a place where large gatherings can happen,” Brown said.

Black box theaters are typically small, intimate venues with no fixed stage or seating arrangements, allowing for a variety of performances, presentations or events. The name is derived from its interior color, which accommodates a multitude of lighting options. 

Several exist in the Sarasota area, including Urbanite Theatre downtown and one on the campus of New College. 

The Arts, Culture and Education Center was envisioned as a privately financed partnership between the college and the town. 

The college would run the operation while the town retains ownership of the land and buildings. The initial designs feature classrooms, studios, a computer lab and gallery for education and display of visual and performing arts. Central to the proposal was the black box theater.

Following the demolition of the former restaurant, which moved operations in 2017  to Burns Court in downtown Sarasota, the town plans to create a gathering site on the 4.8 acres for concerts and other events.

The town is using a $400,000 grant from Sarasota County to pay for demolition and related site work.







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