Players Center for Performing Arts Cancels Ranch Plans

Less than a month after developer Schroeder Manatee Ranch opened Lakewood Ranch’s new downtown Waterside Place in 2016, the Sarasota Community Theater announced plans to build its new facility there.

The Players Center for Performing Arts would have been a crown jewel in the dining, shopping and entertainment district with a 70,000 square foot multi-purpose hall, 480 seat main stage auditorium, 125 black box theater seats, a 100-seat cabaret and an outdoor events plaza, arranged around a two-story lobby.

It would cost $30 million, the Herald previously reported, and with inflation, possibly more.

In the end, fundraising during the pandemic and rapidly escalating construction costs proved too much. The Players recently withdrew their construction project at Waterside Place and Lakewood Ranch agreed to end its agreement with the Players.

William Skaggs, CEO of The Players, said Thursday that his organization is in talks with the City of Sarasota to move its operations and performances to the City Auditorium Building on North Tamiami Trail.

The cost of building the planned theater proved too difficult in times of inflation and a pandemic and The Players needed to find a permanent home to relaunch its programming, continuing its 92-year history, Skaggs said.

“In almost every way, business is business as usual and we are getting ready to announce our 93rd season,” he said. “Everything is progressing. We are very happy with where we are.

Lakewood Ranch and The Players Center will continue to collaborate on theater programming for children and adults at both Sarasota facilities and existing Ranch venues, SMR said.

The developer seeks to find an appropriate use of the site previously reserved for The Players.

“The players are an invaluable asset to this region, and while we would have appreciated their presence at Waterside Place, we believe the new location in Sarasota allows them to quickly return to their full lineup and build for the future,” Kirk Boylston, president of LWR Commercial, said in a press release.

“Now that Waterside Place is complete, activated and over 80% leased, we are in a much better position to attract very impactful and complementary use that will serve our residents. We are just beginning the exploration process,” Boylston said.

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After all, the Players Center for the Performing Arts won’t be building a 480-seat main auditorium at Lakewood Ranch’s Waterside Place. Rendering provided by The Players Center Bradenton

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Waterside Place, the town center of Lakewood Ranch’s newest village, is a shopping, dining and entertainment hub. Render provided by SMR

James A. Jones Jr. covers business news for the Bradenton Herald. Enlisted in the army in 1966, he served in the Vietnam War as a signals officer. He is the author of “Oh, Darling!” Choice and struggle in the age of Sputnik, the Vietnam War and the new millennium.
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