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Side of Ranch

Artsy sounds welcome in Waterside of Lakewood Ranch

Schroeder-Manatee Ranch's new Sights and Sounds series provides a cultural boost.

Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble Conductor Joseph Miller conducts the band during The Star Spangled Banner.
Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble Conductor Joseph Miller conducts the band during The Star Spangled Banner.
Photo by Jay Heater
  • East County
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Art will be in the air at Waterside Place March 24.

OK, I'm not talking about people heaving around paintings or sculptures. This will be of the musical variety as provided by the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble.

Developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch always wanted culture and art to have a significant presence at Waterside Place, to go along with the beautiful backdrop of Kingfisher Lake, and all the dining and entertainment options that are surfacing as the hub matures.

The Players Centre for Performing Arts was expected to fill that East County arts void by building a $30 million theater at Waterside Place, an endeavor which hit the brakes in March 2022 as SMR became convinced that such a theater couldn't be built in a timely manner.

It didn't want the missing tooth in its beautiful new hub.

Already the No. 1-selling multigenerational, master-planned community in the U.S., Lakewood Ranch doesn't need an arts presence considering its neighbor, Sarasota, has plenty of arts groups to spare. But SMR always has been proactive about trying to give residents of Lakewood Ranch all the lifestyle options they desire, right in their backyard, or at least on the east side of Interstate 75.

It is part of the reason that "Sights and Sounds" has become a new music series at Waterside Place.

Nicole Hackel, SMR's events and residents experience manager, has brought The Players, Florida Studio Theatre, Asolo Repertory Theatre and Sarasota Contemporary Dance to Waterside Place for performances. In doing so, she said the feedback has been positive.

"People were excited to have arts on the Ranch," she said. "It was something different from our typical Friday and Saturday entertainment (at Waterside Place).

The "typical" entertainment at Waterside Place on Friday and Saturday nights has been a solo artist or a duet performing in front of the pavilion. While that entertainment will continue, once a month Hackel has worked to schedule something a little different. That can come on either a Friday or Saturday night.

"This will be an opportunity for the arts groups to promote themselves, and to make those organizations accessible to those who live within the Ranch," Hackel said.

Therefore Hackel decided to give the series the "Sights and Sounds" tag, starting with the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble's 6 p.m. performance.

The Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble will bring 25 musicians to Waterside, with the possibility of bringing the entire ensemble to perform in the future.

Hackel said the pavilion could host more than 60 musicians comfortably, and will do so in May when Strings Con Brio of Sarasota performs in May (the date has yet to be finalized).

It is great news for the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble, which has been holding concerts at Peace Presbyterian Church and has been looking for more venues to host its entire ensemble.

"It is beautiful there," said Joseph Miller, the founder and conductor of the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble, of Waterside Place. "And everything (in the future) depends on our acceptance."

By that, Miller meant if those who hear the ensemble provide positive feedback to SMR, it will be invited back.

Miller said the March 24 show will "showcase our product."

Hackel said the "Sights and Sounds" series won't be confined to Fridays or Saturdays because she wanted to be flexible when it came to scheduling music groups.

She said approximately 200 people could bring chairs and sit comfortably in front of the pavilion, and of course, those who come to dine at one of the restaurants can enjoy the music as they pass.

While the series will be taking place at Waterside Place in Sarasota County, it would be nice if Manatee County officials are paying attention.

Manatee County bought the Premier Sports Campus and its 127-acre campus, plus another adjacent 36 acres, in 2017. It added another adjacent 74.5 acres the next year.

Original plans included an outdoor amphitheater, but no design has been presented yet to Manatee County commissioners or the public. At the time, Manatee County's Charlie Hunsicker said he expected the park to be built out in about a decade.

Since that time, nothing on the property has opened, although the $17.3 million library is expected to open late this year. An aquatics facility and pickleball complex will be next to break ground.

While nothing more has become public about an amphitheater, last June Elliott Falcione, who manages Premier for the county, talked about the need for an indoor gymnasium or an indoor events facility.

If Manatee County built both the amphitheater and an indoor gym/events facility, it could be a boon for arts groups in the region. Of course, that is if the county solicits opinions from those groups on what they would need for their performances in terms of a stage and power hookups.

While Lakewood Ranch wouldn't be home to any musical arts group in particular, it would have the venues to bring them here on occasion.

For many residents, that is a sweet sound.



Jay Heater

Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.

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