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Ringling College details plans for Signature Academic Building

The new facility is designed to be an admissions hub and provide more learning space for students.

A 2027 opening is targeted for the Signature Academic Building.
A 2027 opening is targeted for the Signature Academic Building.
Courtesy image
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When Ringling College of Art and Design purchased a Shell gas station at the corner of U.S. 41 and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way in 2006, it intended for the property to serve as the gateway to the school.

About two years ago, its administration decided the time had come to realize those plans.

On April 30, the college hosted a “Meet the Architect” event featuring Jonathan Moody of the architecture firm Moody Nolan, which has been tasked with designing the campus’s Signature Academic Building.

Thompson emphasized the building as an important, iconic signifier for those arriving in Sarasota and heading down U.S. 41, while Moody described the firm’s goal of serving an area’s people through its architectural designs.

“Although we're talking about a building, we're really not talking about a building, we're talking about the people and the environments to do the amazing things — the building is just kind of there in the background,” Moody said.

The event included speeches by Ringling College President Larry Thompson and Moody, followed by a panel discussion that included Thompson; Moody; Willie Stanfield, chair of the facilities committee; Ali Bahaj, vice chair of the college's board of trustees, who is chairing the college's Catalyst for Creativity fundraising campaign and Tracy Wagner, executive vice president for Ringling College.

Design in mind

The project is being funded through the Catalyst for Creativity comprehensive fundraising campaign.

The campaign is seeking a total of $175 million and has thus far raised $136 million in both its private and public aspects. Launched in 2018, it was revealed publicly in November of 2023. 

Approximately $90 million will go toward capital investments (including the Signature Academic Building); $52 million will be devoted to support student scholarships and faculty programs; and $33 million will support community programs.

The building, which features about 100,000 square feet of space, is expected to break ground in 2025.

“Ideally, we would love to have our freshman class of 2027 be able to start their academic career in that building,” Stanfield said. 

Larry Thompson, Jonathan Moody, Ali Bahaj, Willie Stanfield and Tracy Wagner engage in a panel discussion.
Photo by Ian Swaby

The space is planned to bring together virtual reality, entertainment design (which is the art of designing themed environments, such as theme parks) game art and computer animation. Its second floor will include an event space with a two-story volume seating about 520 people.

Panelists emphasized that the building will serve as an iconic signifier for those traveling from the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport along U.S. 41.

“It's going to be a crown jewel, for the community, and I think it's going to be a wow factor. That's how I felt when I saw it first,” Bahaj said.

The building became necessary due to the increasing scope of the college’s offerings and a student population that has risen from about 800 students 25 years ago, to 1,722 today, according to Thompson.

Part of its purpose will be welcoming new students, with its ground floor serving as an introduction to the college and a central location for college admissions.

A 2027 opening is targeted for the Signature Academic Building.
Courtesy image

“I think the first floor of the building is really going to be the interface for our campus community and the Sarasota community, so we really want that first floor to tell the story of Ringling College, so that our prospective students and their families really get to know the campus,” Wagner said.

The floor will feature smaller rooms in which prospective students can talk privately about their portfolio and students or parents can ask private questions, such as ones about financial aid.

That floor will also house the Richard + Barbara Basch Gallery, a glass sculpture exhibition that is currently located on the first floor of the Larry R. Thompson Academic Center.

Minds behind design

As the firm behind the effort, Moody Nolan has the reputation to match such a visible project. 

As the country’s largest African American-owned design firm, Moody Nolan, during its 42 years in business, has designed buildings including Ohio State University’s basketball arena, which opened in 1997, buildings for Cleveland School of the Arts and an airplane hangar for NASA-certified private astronaut Larry Connor.

In 2021, the firm received the Architecture Firm Award from the American Institute of Architects, the highest architecture firm honor offered by the organization.

Yet the whole project is a community effort, as the public is also receiving the opportunity to add input, said Wagner. 

“We're very interested in making sure that the constituents that we represent had an opportunity for voice,” she said.

She said campus faculty, students and staff are receiving updates through presentations, and a community workshop for neighbors of the college is being held. 

“The input has just been really wonderful from the faculty, and from the other departments that are in the process,” she said, noting staff understand the technology involved in architecture and have provided input that includes Photoshop drawings.

Moody said it all will help.

“What our team has talked a lot about is the Ringling effect, and what we mean by that is, as you've heard, the culture, the energy of this place, what these students do is amazing, and we wanted to have a building that … could symbolize or reflect that and a form that wasn't something that you'd expect. It’s something that really kind of captures that energy of that effectively, really a place that pulls people in and brings them together."

Correction: This article has been corrected to state that only a portion of the funds raised in the Campaign for Creativity will be devoted to construction.



Ian Swaby

Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.

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