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Town backs away from theater proposal

$11 million revised plan features a multi-purpose room and possibly a design to expand in the future.

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  • | 12:40 p.m. March 5, 2019
Demolition of the former Amore Restaurant and the clearing of the wooded property is being paid for by a $400,000 county grant.
Demolition of the former Amore Restaurant and the clearing of the wooded property is being paid for by a $400,000 county grant.
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Longboat Key's Town Commission agreed Monday to drop the idea of a black box theater for its proposed Arts, Culture and Education Center and replace it with a multipurpose room that could be used as a performance space.

That decision came after its partner, Ringling College of Art and Design, indicated it was not qualified to run that kind of performance venue and raised doubts about raising $18 million to build the facility as originally planned.

With the change, the price tag for the project is now $11.3 million, an amount Ringling said is more reasonable to raise.

“The people of Longboat Key want a theater,” said Commissioner Jim Brown, who is spearheading the venture for the town. “We need to back down from the technology of a black box theater. We can have a room. It can be anything. People can even get married there.”

Brown,  an architect, said the building should be designed and constructed in such a way that it can be expanded, such as adding a second story, should the need arise.

“That’s my recommendation,” Brown said Monday, his last official meeting as an elected town official.

Both Brown and Town Manager Tom Harmer met with Ringling President Larry Thompson late last month to discuss the project. Harmer said Ringling reinforced its recommendation to proceed with multipurpose space, not a black box theater, at a lower price. Several black box theaters exist in the Sarasota arts community.

Brown also doesn’t anticipate a problem raising the necessary money locally after Commissioner Randy Clair expressed some concern.

“Longboat Key is one of the most philanthropic communities around,” he said. “If we can’t raise the money, then we should not build the building.”

While public money paid for the former Amore site and a grant from Sarasota County is paying to demolish the former restaurant and clear the land, construction of the center is intended to be done entirely with privately raised money.

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. 

The college would run center 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. 

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.

Until ACE is built, the town will bring in a temporary stage and use the site as an outdoor venue where concerts, art shows and movies could be held.

With the commission agreeing to Brown’s plan, fundraising for the project can now begin with Ringling and the Longboat Key Community Foundation taking the lead roles.

Ringling had hoped to have the center built by 2023 though private donations. 





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