Schroeder-Manatee Ranch always has thought big when planning Lakewood Ranch.
Big homes, big entertainment hubs, big parks, big trails.
So my hope has been that Manatee County officials think big when planning anything that coincides with Lakewood Ranch.
A group of Lakewood Ranch musicians is hoping the same.
Calling themselves Friends of Lakewood Ranch Performing Arts Center, their mission is to use a grassroots effort to build support for a performing arts center in the Lakewood Ranch area.
Look around. It's an arts desert when it comes to theaters.
Now, we've been down this road in the not-to-distance past, when I wrote in March about SMR terminating its agreement with The Players Centre for Performing Arts to build a $30 million theater at Waterside Place. SMR obviously was not confident The Players could deliver in a timely manner and thus decided to move forward, no matter its huge desire to deliver an arts complex to its community.
Although that was the case, I noted at that time that Lakewood Ranch, the nation's No. 1 selling multigenerational, master-planned community in the U.S., was doing quite nicely, thank you, with a rather artless existence. Sarasota is stocked with arts opportunities and it is a short drive away.
In the realm of big thinking, however, the Friends of the Lakewood Ranch Performing Arts Center, led by Joe Martinez, wants more and has decided to get loud about it.
It has the perfect guy to sound the bugle — or trumpet.
Martinez owns JM Productions, a booking and talent agency that contracts musicians for local and national events. He is the principal trumpet for the Sarasota Concert Band and the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble. His list of other musical affiliations goes on and on. Suffice to say, he is well respected in the region.
So people tend to listen when Martinez says it is plain silly not to have a performing arts center in such an affluent community, which has generated rapid growth that has meant a fortune to Manatee County. That is the Manatee County that has kept reserves on hand of about a half billion dollars.
I get it. A lot of that reserve money is now being targeted for infrastructure that is going to make our lives a lot easier when it comes to driving around the area. That being said, wouldn't it be nice if Manatee County led an effort to bring a performing arts center to Premier Park?
So far, Manatee County is on the way to delivering a $17.3 million library. A $13.59 million aquatics facility is getting ready to break ground, and it appears it will cost another $770,000 to upgrade the pool to longer swimming lanes, a good idea in order to have a complex that can host major events.
Manatee County has $28.45 million budgeted in its five-year Capital Improvement Plan for sports facilities at Premier Park.
No one is going to dispute the tragic and comical nature of our Manatee County Commission proceedings, and yet, if you criticize that obvious lack of professionalism, you also need to step back and compliment the commissioners for bringing much needed amenities to East County. These projects generally have overwhelming support from the commissioners.
There has been talk of some kind of amphitheater or stage at Premier as well, and perhaps a gymnasium that would be big enough to host indoor major events in the slow tourist summer. Keep thinking big.
So why not a performing arts center?
Martinez would like to strike while the commissioners are in the mood to upgrade amenities in East County.
"Our group is trying to give Lakewood Ranch residents a chance to express their feelings," Martinez said. "We have an exciting concept, but we have yet to present it to the decision makers."
Friends of the Lakewood Ranch Performing Arts Center already has drawn up some plans, such as a 77,650-square-foot building with two theaters (one seating 750 and the other 300). The building would house three separate rehearsal halls, storage areas, administrative office space, additional office space for rent, chorus rooms, dressing rooms, a kitchen, dining and lounge areas, and a loading dock.
You be the judge of whether the Friends of the Lakewood Ranch Performing Arts Center has gone from dreaming big to utter fantasy. Martinez puts a $75 million price on the project.
Just breathe, and keep dreaming.
I don't know if $75 million is a little too pie-in-the-sky, but I do know when Manatee County residents get serious about asking for things, they have commissioners in place who try to deliver. And unless this particular concept gets discussed in an open forum, we won't know what is possible.
Myself, that $30 million theater being planned by The Players was sweet. Perhaps The Players was trying to carry too much of a load by itself. Imagine if The Players had set sights on Premier and had the backing, and financial support of Manatee County. I would imagine that would have required other arts groups to be included in the mission as well, but the result could have been special.
The Players' ship probably has sailed, but how about a similar concept at Premier Park, with Manatee County (read this as "We, the taxpayers") providing support in land, funding, planning, and maintenance? Could a public-private partnership mean a permanent home for a group like The Players, and other nonprofit arts groups? Could those groups make significant contributions toward construction? Could a master like Elliott Falcione, the executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention Center, find ways to generate income with such a performing arts center?
Could we build a bigger theater — 1,500 seats or more — that would allow the building to, on occasion, host professional musicians and acts that could turn the center into a regional draw?
Martinez doesn't have all the answers, but he wants to get the discussion rolling. He sees a Lakewood Ranch Orchestra in the near future. He sees concerts and plays. He sees an oasis in the Lakewood Ranch arts desert.
Would you like to join his effort? You can reach him at [email protected]. His group already is planning a "Rising Tide Gala" to raise funds for the effort along with a silent auction.
It's time to dream.