The area north of downtown Sarasota and south of the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, known locally as the North Trail, is often considered a prime area for redevelopment.
But potential projects, from housing to retail and mixed-use, have stalled for a variety of reasons. The list includes the usual obstacles, such as funding, timing and many times, government forces.
But one pocket of the North Trail, hidden a bit from the main drag, has become its own little boomtown enclave. That's where Ringling College of Art and Design has $70 million in construction projects, to go with $40 million in projects completed earlier in the decade.
The surge comes while Ringling administrators grapple with an unexpected challenge: swelling enrollment.
The school set a new enrollment record for the 2016-2017 academic year with 1,400 students, up nearly 15% from 2014-2015. Ringling President Larry Thompson projects the college will surpass 1,500 students in a few years and hit 2,000 by 2024.
“We see Ringling stretching out a in a number of directions,” Thompson says. “We don't want to grow to be too big, but we want to amortize the costs it takes to run a college as efficiently as possible.”
And running Ringling, a nationally ranked arts and design school, is costlier than a traditional liberal arts-based college, says Thompson. That includes providing top-tier equipment and facilities for students, in everything from computers to classrooms to film and video gear. It also means maintaining low student-to-teacher ratios of about 10 to 1. “You can't teach this like you can teach physics, math or English,” Thompson says.
On the flip side, Ringling's base tuition of $39,000, which helps provide that environment, helped drag down enrollment rates in the middle of the recession. A majority of students receive financial aid, Thompson says.
Enrollment began to pick up both when the economy began to turn and the school's unique real life work-experience program, the Collaboratory, gained traction. The Collaboratory is like a college-based design studio: Clients, from large area companies to nonprofits — even police departments — come to the school for projects and tasks. Ringling students not only get to work on the projects, but also learn about budgets, working with others and deadlines. It's not a coffee-fetching internship.
“This is something that other colleges don't do,” Thompson says. “It's an important part of an education here.”
One of the most notable construction projects is the Alfred R. Goldstein Library at the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Old Bradenton Road. An $18 million project, the state-of-the-art facility is 46,000 square feet and something school officials call an intellectual student center. It includes moveable furniture, adaptable workstations and “areas dedicated to thinking out loud,” the school says in a statement. It's scheduled to open in January.
Another significant project is a sound stage and post-production studio, a $10 million project. The facility, say school officials, will include a variety of stages, dubbing areas, editing suites and a private screening room. The sound stage and studio, also on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way, is scheduled to open in mid-2017. One more project is the Richard and Barbara Basch Visual Arts Center, a $13.7 million project under construction, also on Martin Luther King.
Another student dorm also could be forthcoming. About 70% of students live on the campus, and Thompson would like to provide more options to meet the enrollment increase.
Along with the growth at the college is an increasing number of international students, up from about 5% to nearly 20% of the student body. Thompson says it stems from word of mouth about the school and the connections professors have in foreign countries, such as South Korea. Says Thompson: “We're more well-known internationally than ever before.”
Examples of projects at Ringling College of Art & Design in Sarasota:
Projects Cost Expected open date
Alfred R. Goldstein Library $18 million January
Sound stage and
post-production studio $10 million mid-2017
(This story was updated to reflect one project missing from the original version.)