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Gulf Coast Community Foundation opens Sarasota Philanthropy Center

The State Street location offers space for nonprofits and donors to gather.


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In a State Street building once occupied by an art gallery and at least one bank, Gulf Coast Community Foundation is ready to open its Sarasota Philanthropy Center, a centrally located spot for nonprofits and their donors to gather for meetings, retreats, conferences and more.

The 5,000-square-foot, first-floor office space is an extension of the foundation’s Venice home base and will serve staff with a flexible workspace and member organizations with two community rooms (which expand into one large one), a boardroom, a pair of smaller meeting rooms meant for donor conversations and Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President for Administration Veronica Thames’ favorite room, the Idea Lounge — equal parts informally relaxing getaway and idea factory.

Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President for Administration Veronica Thames said the Idea Lounge is her favorite component of the Sarasota Philanthropy Center (Photo by Eric Garwood)
Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President for Administration Veronica Thames said the Idea Lounge is her favorite component of the Sarasota Philanthropy Center (Photo by Eric Garwood)

"The Idea Lounge is designed to be a space for collaboration, but also creativity in partnership, where big thinkers and leaders of the community will gather and create policy together," Thames said. "So we can improve our region from the ground up."

Gulf Coast is a public charity created in 1995 through the sale of the Venice Hospital. Since then, it’s become the philanthropic home of more than 950 families, individuals, businesses and organizations that have established charitable funds there. Together, the foundation has served to contribute nearly $500 million in grants for causes ranging from health and human services, civic and economic development, education, arts and the environment.

Two of the community rooms open into one larger space, with multiple configurations. (Photo by Eric Garwood)
Two of the community rooms open into one larger space, with multiple configurations. (Photo by Eric Garwood)

The Philanthropy Center, located at 1549 State St., was years in the making, a project Thames said made more complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The downtown location was perfect, she said, not only for its central access but also its proximity to easy parking at the city garage across the street and other amenities, such as shops and restaurants.

The Gulf Coast Community Foundation's Sarasota Philanthropy Center is on State Street in downtown. (Photo by Eric Garwood)
The Gulf Coast Community Foundation's Sarasota Philanthropy Center is on State Street in downtown. (Photo by Eric Garwood)

About 55 locations were considered, Thames said, adding the process of finding a space, designing and styling it, remodeling it and then getting ready to open took years. Since May, 2021, the organization has been focused on the State Street site. Once settled on the location, the foundation focused on the mission and the possibilities.

"We wanted space, primarily because one of the big goals that our board set out to meet was to provide ample space for our nonprofit partners to have a place to meet downtown where the work is, where the communities that we and they serve together are," Thames said.

Space is bookable on the foundation’s website for the rooms that are arrayed right and left off a central hallway that runs from the front door to the back wall. Originally built with no windows, the team of Willis Smith Construction and Plunkett Raysich Architecture LLP added new sources of natural light and added design touches that connect with the building’s mid-century roots.

Staffers can work either in the foundation's Venice office or in an 11-position room in the downtown Sarasota office. (Photo by Eric Garwood)
Staffers can work either in the foundation's Venice office or in an 11-position room in the downtown Sarasota office. (Photo by Eric Garwood)

Off the staff room, with the word "team" emblazoned on the back wall, is one of the most secure closets in all of Sarasota, built of inches-thick steel from the remnants of one of two former bank vaults (the other was demolished). A section of exposed brick from the original 1955 structure also remains, and salvaged lumber from the Ringling estate, which Thames said helps connect her organization, its mission and its location in a historic way.

"It showcases again, the connection between philanthropy, art, Sarasota, our roots and the deep connection that exists between all of us," Thames said. "So we preserved up to every last clear inch that we could use."

 

author

Eric Garwood

Eric Garwood is the managing editor of the Longboat Observer and the Sarasota Observer. Since graduating from University of South Florida in 1984, he's been a reporter and editor at newspapers in Florida and North Carolina.