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The Players CEO says plans for theater complex at Waterside Place at Lakewood Ranch now firmly in place

Groundbreaking for a $26.5 million complex at Waterside Place of Lakewood Ranch is targeted for spring 2023.

William Skaggs, the CEO of the Players Centre for Performing Arts, stands in front of the theater's future home at Waterside Place.
William Skaggs, the CEO of the Players Centre for Performing Arts, stands in front of the theater's future home at Waterside Place.
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With businesses at Waterside Place at Lakewood Ranch preparing to open in October and November, the space reserved for The Players Centre for Performing Arts is empty except for a parking lot.

It was January of 2018 when The Players Managing Director Michelle Bianchi said, "They are not going to have the 'missing tooth.'"

Bianchi was referring to the fear that if The Players' fundraising drive fell flat, and either construction of the planned new theater at Waterside Place was delayed for a long time or canceled altogether, the resulting space would like like a "missing tooth."

But Bianchi was confident the new theater would become a reality because The Players had sold its Sarasota theater for $9.5 million.

Considering the Players' plan at the time to build a $10 million first phase of a $30 million complex, it was easy to understand that confidence.

In October, Waterside Place will begin to come to life, about six months later than the original plan. Considering the pandemic, the delay was minimal.

However, the delay for The Players will be longer. Bianchi resigned in April 2018 and The Players' other driving force, Artistic Director Jeffery Kin, will leave the nonprofit in the spring.

Nevertheless, The Players CEO William Skaggs, who came aboard in September, 2020, said the project is going forward with more concrete plans.

Upon the arrival of Skaggs, whose previous job was as chief development and outreach coordinator for the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center in Bowling Green, Kentucky, he said The Players had no planned ground-breaking date. That has changed.

"As far as shovel in ground. we will break ground in spring of 2023," Skaggs said. "Eleven months ago, there wasn't a date. You would ask, 'What's the plan?' When I think about goals ... are they specific? Are they measurable? Are they obtainable? We needed to begin to take this vision and turn it into goals."

With a construction time of about two years, The Players Centre for Performing Arts would be opening in 2025. That's at least two years later than previous expectations.

Skaggs said the pandemic is responsible for the delay.

"When the pandemic hit, the (fundraising) campaign went dark, and that was reasonable," Skaggs said. "We've made some good decisions throughout the pandemic, and we've tried to make decisions to keep our team, our volunteers, our patrons, safe. We've made decisions and have done a wonderful job containing costs. Organizationally we are doing well.

"From the Waterside Place campaign perspective, moving through the last season was about month-to-month operations. How do we continue to operate and take care of our people?"

Skaggs said the way people interact had to change during the pandemic and it complicated The Players' attempts to run a Center Stage Capital Campaign. He said that campaign has been relaunched the last few months. He said at this point the campaign is about educating the community about The Players and its future.

Late in 2020, The Players board and executives did a review of the overall plan. They considered the budget and made some changes.

When Skaggs arrived, the cost of a campaign to fund a theater ranged from $32 to $35 million. That plan shifted to a $26.5 million theater. 

"We want to create a space not to have someone say, 'Look at this amazing royal, gorgeous space,'" Skaggs said. "We want them to say, 'Look at this amazing experience.'"

Part of the plan involved organizing the theater's resources. A warehouse location on 10th Street in Sarasota had been purchased to store scenery props, costumes and other props. The Players had been leasing 4,500 square foot of space and no longer had to do so since it had its new 10,000 square foot storage area. The Players also realized it didn't need to have a storage area within the falls of its new theater so that area could be repurposed. It helped drop the anticipated cost of the theater.

With the plan solidified, Skaggs can concentrate of the fundraising campaign.

"The people I have met in the last few months, normally I would have met in the first month (of his arrival)," he said.

He will be spreading his message about the theater.

"We will be in some ways in larger piece of community," he said. "This will not be solely about our shows, but the vision is that multiple arts organizations will use this space on a regular basis. It's about how we will provide value to the community. This area doesn't have a facility like this.

"Something we want to convey is this is not about the Players Centre for Performing Arts, but about community, about families, about individuals. To those lovers of arts and culture, this is not going to happen without them. This is a buy-in. This is a place that will make the place we live more like home. People need to jump on board if they want this kind of thing for their community."

He admits there is "much, much to be done."

In order to break ground, he said The Players need to raise "a good amount" over half the $26.5 million campaign goal. He said the current fundraising total toward the new theater is $6.3 million.

"We absolutely are in a mode (to move forward)," he said. "If we weren't, we wouldn't be devoting the time and money that we are."


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