Longboat Key has never had a true public event and park space, but that's about to change.
The Karon Family Pavilion — the second phase of the Town Center Green project — is getting finishing touches to be officially unveiled on Nov. 11.
A short walk away from Publix and town hall, the white pavilion commands a presence.
But it’s more than just a pavilion; it’s a space that embodies a “park-like atmosphere” for the town.
Around the center are benches, greenery and an oval-shaped walking path, paved with recycled rubber. In his latest “Tip Talk” video, Town Manager Howard Tipton said the rubberized pavement makes you feel “like you’ve got that spring in your step.”
The park-like atmosphere, Tipton said in the video, is something unique for Longboat Key.
“We have this beautiful green space, and that’s kind of the difference between having a traditional downtown that’s pavement and sidewalks and buildings, where this is green space,” Tipton said in the video. “It’s really a natural element that’s been reclaimed and really improved upon.”
On Veterans Day, the unveiling event kicks off at 3 p.m. with a ribbon cutting, color guard and the national anthem.
As a part of their 75th anniversary celebration, the Sarasota Orchestra will be performing at the town center dedication event.
“Things are wrapping up really nicely,” Public Works Director Isaac Brownman said. “We’re very happy with the product. I’m really excited for people having the opportunity to use it.”
The space where the Town Center Green now stands previously went through several different iterations.
Occupying the space from 2014 to 2017 was Amore Restaurant, before the restaurant decided to move and reopen in downtown Sarasota.
Then there was Ringling College of Art and Design.
The Longboat Key Center for the Arts used to be a staple of the north end of Longboat Key, with Ringling College entering the picture around 2001 to help financially.
Around 2016, Ringling College had plans to build a new arts center on the space at 600 Bay Isles Road, where the town center now sits.
A memorandum of understanding was drafted between the town and Ringling College, under the leadership of former Town Manager Tom Bullock.
Plans for the Longboat Key Arts, Culture and Education Center were announced in early 2018, at an estimated cost of $18 million. The Longboat Key Foundation was tasked with privately raising the remaining funds necessary for construction by 2022.
The space would have included classrooms, a courtyard, amphitheater, teaching studios and galleries among other ideas.
Then, in 2019, Ringling College reconsidered the venture, ultimately dropping the project and leading the town to the long process of constructing the Town Center Green instead of the previously planned arts center.
Revitalizing the center
According to Brownman, the park-like atmosphere was always the plan for phase 2, and a pavilion in the town center was always an idea. But the town initially lacked the funds to see the project through.
In 2021, Paul and Sarah Karon became the primary donors to fund the pavilion. They pledged to donate up to $500,000 in exchange for naming rights for the pavilion.
Work on phase 2 began in 2022. All in all, phase 2's costs totaled $2.3 million, with $1.5 million funded by the town. The other $800,000 was privately funded, the majority coming from the Karon family.
The construction team was able to accomplish a big goal that set them up for future success: stormwater planning, Brownman said.
The stormwater management system that was installed as a part of phase 2 is large enough to accommodate any future additions to the space.
This will save time when phase 3 starts to ramp up, Brownman said, since the construction team won’t need to worry about design, planning and permitting for stormwater.
Although construction for phase 3 won’t be seen any time soon, plans and early discussions are already underway.
Sarasota County is collaborating with the town to create a public library space as part of the town center. The county set aside $1 million in its fiscal year 2024 budget for design of the space.
The county and town have also selected Borrelli + Partners as the architect, and Jon F. Swift Construction as the construction manager.
The Sarasota County-funded public library will be the main component of phase 3, with potential for meeting space and additional programming.
But there’s also potential for adding more for a possible community center space. Anything more than the library, though, would need to be funded through the town or other private donors.
Community input discussions for the phase 3 development will take place in early 2024.
Correction: This article has been updated to correct the tree-lighting date.