SARASOTA — In dramatic terms, the plan for a $30 million theater complex to house the The Players Centre of Performing Arts in Lakewood Ranch is dead.
Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, the developers of the master-planned community in east Manatee and north Sarasota county, issued a statement March 28, saying it has terminated its agreement with The Players to build a performing arts center in Waterside Place. The Players informed Lakewood Ranch Commercial Realty, a subsidiary of SMR, that it was talking with the city of Sarasota about potentially relocating its operations to the Municipal Auditorium, at 801 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota.
According to a story in the East County Observer, sister paper of the Business Observer, The Players CEO William Skaggs stressed that his group is only in talks with the city of Sarasota and nothing has been agreed upon. The Players presented a smaller theater complex plan to SMR, he says, but that plan was rejected.
"The Players Centre has been evaluating the size and scope of the Lakewood Ranch project," Skaggs says. "The Players recently approached SMR with some ideas for a smaller project that did not include a traditional theater."
Although the project didn't come to fruition, he adds, The Players would continue to bring productions to Lakewood Ranch.
"The Players is an invaluable asset to the region, and while we would have enjoyed its presence in Waterside Place, we believe the new location in Sarasota allows it to expeditiously return to its full programing and build for the future," says Kirk Boylston, president of Lakewood Ranch Commercial, in a release. "Now that Waterside Place is complete, activated and more than 80% leased, we are in a much better position to attract a highly impactful and complementary use that will serve our residents. We are just beginning the exploration process."
Skaggs hedged on his nonprofit's future during a Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance luncheon March 23.
"We are evaluating everything regarding our facilities," he says. "We are discussing our future plans as we move past the pandemic. We are taking a look at everything. We have to make sure it all fits together well, and we have to figure out what works best."
Skaggs, who noted in December he was working on a possible five-year lease with Sarasota for the Municipal Auditorium, adds that the huge rise in construction costs during the pandemic has been problematic for any plans to build a new theater.
"It's insane," he says.
Other arts possibilities are being considered for the hole left by the decision to part ways with The Players' complex, SMR Senior Vice President Laura Cole says.
"Every community aspires to have some kind of civic uses for the community," Cole says. "Arts enrich every day life. But does that need to be bricks and mortar?"
Originally, the plan was to break ground on the Waterside Place theater complex in 2023.
The Players announced in 2016 it would leave its Sarasota theater to build a new complex in Lakewood Ranch. An intense fundraising campaign followed over the next couple years intended to get the Lakewood Ranch community to buy into the project. The two driving forces behind the campaign for a new theater complex were The Players CEO Michelle Bianchi, who resigned in April 2018, and The Players Artistic Director Jeffery Kin, who announced in September he was leaving the nonprofit.