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Ringling president casts doubt on Longboat Arts Center fundraising

Black box theater component of plan might have to be spun off to a second phase, Thompson says.

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  • | 12:48 p.m. January 25, 2019
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Doubts about fundraising prospects for the Longboat Arts, Culture and Education Center could put one of the project's selling points and main features -- the multi-use black box theater -- in jeopardy and the entire proposal on a longer timeline. 

Ringling College in 2017 sold the land once devoted to the Longboat Key Center for the Arts for $1.85 million.
Ringling College in 2017 sold the land once devoted to the Longboat Key Center for the Arts for $1.85 million.

Ringing College of Art and Design President Larry Thompson told Town Commissioners this week that donor enthusiasm wasn't living up to the scope of the venue's initial designs. 

“There were doubts $18 million could be raised for something expressly devoted to Longboat Key,” Thompson said, adding the black box theater might be better spun off into a separate phase of the project.

“I thought the black box theater would be the sexy part and lead to more philanthropy,” he added.

For more than two years, Longboat officials have been working on a plan with Ringling that would transform about 4.8 acres adjacent to the Bay Isles shopping center -- including the former Amore restaurant property, which the town purchased in early 2017 for $2.2 million -- into an arts center. The former Longboat Key Center for the Arts, which was located in the Longbeach Village neighborhood on the northern end of the island, closed in May 2017 following Ringling's sale of that property to a private developer for $1.85 million. 

Besides a black box theater, original site plans called for the new center to offer classrooms, studios, a computer lab and gallery for education and display of visual and performing arts. 

“We feel we need a different approach,” Thompson said. “It should be a phased effort.”

The cost of the revamped project should be around $10 million to $11 million, Thompson said.

“We do not have the expertise in the performing arts,” Thompson said. “We thought it would be better to bring in a partner with that expertise. The black box theater is the most expensive part of the project. It would be part of phase two, not eliminated.”

The original proposal for the Longboat Arts, Culture and Education Center.
The original proposal for the Longboat Arts, Culture and Education Center.

“In downsizing and not focusing on the black box theater, it kills it. It is the death knell for the black box theater,” Commissioner Jack Daly said.

Ringling had hoped to have the center built by 2023 though private donations. In the interim, the town intends to demolish the Amore building and create an outdoor venue for a variety of uses while fundraising progressed.

Thompson’s report caught the commission by surprise.

“We had the hope and expectation of moving forward,” Commissioner Randy Clair said.

Outgoing Commissioner Jim Brown, a longtime supporter of the proposal, suggested forming a committee to give input on the project and how to best raise the necessary funding to preserve the black box theater component.

“A black box theater has the flexibility to be used in many ways, not just for the performing arts,” he said. “I would like to put together a committee, with you (Thompson) or someone you designate with expertise in these areas. That way we can talk about the viability of moving forward with the whole thing.”

Formation of a committee, however, could slow fundraising this season, Thompson said.

“If we have a committee, we could lose fundraising this year,” said Thompson, adding most philanthropy in this community takes place between November and April.

“But, I am not disagreeing.”

Before moving forward with forming a committee, Brown said he will talk with Town Manager Tom Harmer.





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