Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Library is next on list for Longboat’s town center

Longboat Key’s Town Center Green is set to become a lively hub for community gatherings, festivals, performances and educational opportunities.

The Karon Family Pavilion is the setting for a variety of events, including performances by area-based arts groups.
The Karon Family Pavilion is the setting for a variety of events, including performances by area-based arts groups.
Courtesy image
  • Longboat Key
  • News
  • Share

For a town filled with people who have spent time in communities big and small worldwide, Longboat Key has long been missing something that’s vital: a dedicated public community center.

That’s changing with the new Town Center Green. 

The multimillion-dollar, three-phase project, littered with curves, hiccups and funding shortfalls, is at least six years in the making. Now, with the first two phases complete and a third phase coming into focus, the project — on a 4.81-acre town-owned site located at 600 Bay Isles Road, near the Shoppes of Bay Isles, the Publix and Town Hall — is primed to be what leaders have hoped for. Features include a 1,500-square-foot bandshell and performance stage, space for food trucks and outdoor festivals and, possibly by 2026, a new state-of-the-art library with an auditorium and classrooms. “This will be a center point for the community,” Town Manager Howard Tipton says. 

While many people played an important role in pushing the concept forward, one who stands out is former Longboat Key Mayor Jim Brown. The town’s mayor from 2011 to 2015, Brown, an architect when he lived in Washington, D.C., has lived on the Key since 1999. He was pivotal in launching the Longboat Key Foundation, which in 2013 became part of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and has been raising money for island projects ever since. It subsequently became its own nonprofit organization in 2020.

Brown recalls that, several years back, he convened a group of residents to evaluate what Longboat Key needed. The lack of a medical center and a town center kept coming up. The Longboat Key Foundation was able to raise the funds for the medical center —and then turned its focus on the town center.

One of the first iterations of the town center project was a partnership with Ringling College of Art and Design, which included fundraising. When that failed to come to fruition, the foundation stepped into place to raise the needed funds. Almost immediately, Brown’s call to action led to one donation of $100,000 and a second donation of $500,000. That second gift came from Longboat Key residents Sarah and Paul Karon for a performing arts pavilion. 

Paul and Sarah Karon plan to donate up to $500,000 to the town of Longboat Key in exchange for the naming rights to the Town Center stage.
Courtesy image

Unveiled in November as the Karon Family Pavilion, the structure stands at the center of the park-like surroundings. Brown and others have already been planning its various uses. 

“Getting on and off the Key during season is one of the key complaints we get from residents and visitors,” says Brown. Nearly seven in 10 residents and snowbirds in the most recent town survey, for example, cited traffic on the bridges to get off the Key as a major headache. 

“Bringing performing arts events to the Key is one of the solutions,” says Brown, adding that interest from Sarasota-based arts groups to perform on Longboat Key is high.

The Karons — Sarah worked as a reporter and editor for newspapers and magazines and Paul was an insurance executive — have had a home on Longboat for about a decade. They moved here from Minneapolis, after, like so many others, discovering Sarasota mostly by accident. They spent time thinking about where to live — island or mainland, bay or gulf. Longboat kept coming to the top. And while they loved the Key, they realized it was missing a neighborhood vibe they had in Minnesota — a strong central gathering spot. 

“It will be great to have all that togetherness there that we haven’t really had,” Sarah Karon says. “It will be beautiful to see this grow.”

The Karons’ donation represents about 15% of the overall cost of phase two. And it was well-timed, too. Costs for the project, thanks primarily to supply chain shortages and inflation, had risen dramatically. “We’ve been blessed to have the financial resources to support a lot of things,” says Paul Karon, who was CEO of Benfield Inc. for 10 years, among other career posts. “We look forward to all the activities there. We think it’s going to be a blast.”

Phase three of the project — the library — is being assembled in collaboration with Sarasota County, the town of Longboat Key, the Library Foundation for Sarasota County, the current Longboat Key Library and the Longboat Key Foundation. Sarasota County set aside $1 million in this year’s budget for the library, which would be the county’s first on a barrier island. 

There currently is a library on the Key, dating back to 1972. But it’s showing its age, with a decaying roof among the issues. A new library would also incorporate modern technologies and classroom spaces and an auditorium. Brown explains that the Longboat Key Foundation hopes to raise additional funds, if needed, to pay for anything that goes beyond the county’s budget. 

One last big win? Tipton explains the project is receiving financial support from Sarasota County and a little bit from Manatee County. Longboat traditionally pays an outsized share of property taxes given booming property valuations. “We are a feeder community for Sarasota and Manatee counties,” Tipton says. “This is an opportunity for some of those tax dollars to come back to Longboat.”



Mark Gordon

Mark Gordon is the managing editor of the Business Observer. He has worked for the Business Observer since 2005. He previously worked for newspapers and magazines in upstate New York, suburban Philadelphia and Jacksonville.

Latest News