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The Players—at 88, Sarasota’s oldest performing arts organization—made it official in 2016: The community theater is changing its name and embarking on a capital campaign to help fund its move to a new location at Lakewood Ranch.

Plans have been in the making for more than two years to sell the nonprofit group’s existing property on North Tamiami Trail—a desirable piece of land overlooking Sarasota’s bayfront—and construct the new Players Centre for Performing Arts in Schroeder Manatee Ranch’s new Waterside development in Lakewood Ranch.

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A rendering of The Players' new location in Lakewood Ranch's Waterside.

It's a “game-changing announcement,” say artistic director Jeffery Kin and managing director Michelle Bianchi Pingel, who use the analogy of a chess match in making their moves. First came the rebranding, with the unveiling of a new logo by Grapevine Communications; next the revelation that “as of today, our property is on the market”; and third, the news that the center, set to open in three years, will house a 480-mainstage auditorium with balcony seating, a 125-seat black box theater, a 100-seat cabaret stage with food service, and the main campus for the Arnold Simonsen Players Studio, the education art of the organization, on 4.5 acres of land in Lakewood Ranch. (The Players in September opened their new performing arts school in Rosemary Square, a satellite location once the new campus is built out east.)

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The Players' Jeffery Kin and Michelle Pingel making the game-changing announcement.

Kin cites among the reasons for the move the age of the Players’ current building, which needs a new air–conditioning system, new seats, and a new roof, as well as parking issues due to new construction surrounding the property. “It’s the right move at the right time,” he says, to develop a new cultural center east of I-75 that will still “have its roots in Sarasota County.”

Pingel, Kin and their board hope to realize somewhere between $12 and $15 million with the sale of the property at 838 N. Tamiami Trail to a potential developer, leaving several million more to be raised through a capital campaign to reach the $25 million goal. “We helped create the current cultural corridor where we are now,” said Kin, “and as a community theater, our job is to go where we are needed. We will create a cultural destination and our own cultural center” along the I-75 corridor.

Pingel emphasized that the current geographic base for the theater’s patrons relies on more than 28 percent coming from that corridor, whereas only between 2 and 3 percent come from the keys and approximately 14 percent from the city. She also added that the new center will have 300 dedicated parking spaces with arrangements with nearby partners for more, and that the facility will be available for rentals to other organizations, generating further revenue for the Players.

In a press release, Kin also said, “This is our opportunity to produce multiple shows at once, attract new patrons and students to the area, and better accommodate our future needs.”

Pingel stresses that no interruption of the programming already taking place and scheduled at the current location is expected.

For more information about the Players’ future home—and the campaign to get it there—call (941) 365-2494 or go to theplayers.org.

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