- January 25, 2022
For the time being, one thing is fairly certain.
By the end of the year, or possibly very early in 2020, Longboat Key will be the owner of a new, open-air venue across the street from Town Hall, suitable for art shows, concerts, movie nights, lawn parties and other events.
It will offer a few amenities, such as power and water. Crushed shell hardscaping could support food trucks on the northwest corner. When needed, a portable stage could be erected in the gently sloping lawn where Amore restaurant once stood.
The plan is minimalist, by design and budget.
But what ultimately ends up on the four acres comprising the former restaurant property and an adjoining parcel could take several paths, either originating or resuming in the next few weeks.
“This first phase is very much cleaning up and making it available and then working through a public process to develop a further design or maybe some additional improvements commissioners would like to see there,” said Town Manager Tom Harmer.
More complicated and permanent infrastructure has been mentioned, such as rigging for lights and sound, shade structures and other improvements, though financing has not. And though Ringling College of Art and Design announced its reconsideration of the proposed Arts, Culture and Education Center last week, citing negative feedback in the community and its likely effect on fund-raising for the privately financed project, several Town Commissioners on Monday delivered statements urging reconciliation.
Ken Schneier spoke about the opportunity the town would lose if the plan with Ringling ultimately fails. A project built and run without tax money, he said, was something special.
“In our current, but perhaps, fragile climate for generous giving, and faced with growing demands for Longboat Key resources for undergrounding, beach renourishment and canal dredging, to name a few, our town center plan was the no-brainer of all time,’’ he said, urging the board to reach out to Ringling. “The boat may have left the dock, but it has not left the harbor.’'
Jack Daly said both the town’s underground utilities project and rewritten redevelopment codes both were points of disagreement between commissioners, but both projects ultimately were approved. He said the Arts, Culture and Education Center could similarly succeed, if given a chance.
He called Ringling’s reconsideration the result of the board’s “significant and major failure to represent the interests of the citizens of Longboat Key.’’
“We need to regroup, we need to revitalize, we need to reform, we need to resurrect our relationship with Ringling,’’ he said, adding it was likely the only organization with which the town could work to develop the kind of facility it has in mind.
Mayor George Spoll and Vice Mayor Ed Zunz have been critical of the speed with which a proposed Memorandum of Understanding with Ringling was progressing over the last few weeks and cast votes in the majority last month to reject a version of the document.
Zunz on Monday said he agreed with much of what Daly, Schneier and others said but pointed again to the failure of the Ringling-owned Longboat Key Center for the Arts in 2017 and said his questions on the topic still had not been answered.
“Tell us what happened there before, and if it’s something that could be repeated here,'' he said. "We certainly don’t want to see the same failure here.’’
Spoll at one point reminded commissioners that debate about regaining Ringling as a partner was not the issue and had not been advertised for public discussion. Still, he allowed commissioners to make their cases.
Mike Haycock suggested the commission’s next step should be a walking tour of the open-air venue site with town staff and asked about the possibility of adding discussion of mending fences with Ringing to a future commission workshop, perhaps in June.
Schneier said in an interview he wasn’t sure if the relationship could be repaired.
“I don’t know if that means ‘somewhere down the road,’ or if we were able to say the right things we could put the train back on the track right now, my hope would be the latter, I don’t know,’’ he said. “But I think it would be important enough that if there’s a 2% chance, we should give it a try,’’