Ringling Rising

Here's What's Coming to the Corner of North Tamiami Trail and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way

Ringling College of Art and Design is raising $175 million, in part to build its new Signature Academic Building.

By Kim Doleatto December 1, 2023

The Signature Academic Building will replace the metal sculptures on the vacant corner of North Tamiami Trail and Dr. Martin Luther King Way, just north of downtown Sarasota.

Dr. Larry Thompson, president of Ringling College of Art and Design, remembers a time when the bustling southeast corner of North Tamiami Trail and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way was home to a Shell gas station, where, “in addition to selling gas and candy bars, it sold drugs and sex, and was embarrassing,” he says. “In 2006, [Ringling College] finally acquired it, and I let our students graffiti it. Soon after, we tore it down.” Ever since, it’s been home to a sculpture garden, some created by students, others donated.

One of the sculptures on the corner of North Tamiami Trail and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

Image: Google Maps

Now, thanks to the college's Catalyst for Creativity fundraising campaign, it’s slated to be home to Ringling's new Signature Academic Building. 

The new building will span roughly 100,000 square feet.

Spanning more than 100,000 square feet, the new four-story building will be home to the campus welcome center and house the Richard and Barbara Basch Gallery’s collection of more than 300 pieces. It will also be the new home of the school's computer animation, entertainment design, game art, and virtual reality development departments, with more than 6,200 square feet of event space and 25 labs and academic spaces.

“The building will mark the entrance, so when people arrive they'll know they’re at a premier college,” Thompson says. "It'll be an iconic symbol and a statement about both the college and the city." 

The estimated cost for the building is roughly $105 million. Plans for it have been approved; construction is slated to begin in April 2024 and take two to three years to complete. As of last month, Ringling College has raised $128 million in the silent phase of its campaign, with a final goal of $175 million. The campaign has been going on since 2018, but the college made it public at a campus event on Wednesday evening.

The architectural firm leading the design is minority-owned Columbus, Ohio-based Moody Nolan. “It’s the first time we’ve worked with them," Thompson says. "During my tenure here we’ve built 14 buildings and have used several firms. For this proposal, this one knocked the committees' socks off."

A rendering of the Signature Academic Building by night.

The Signature Academic Building is the main project for the college, but another residence hall is on the horizon due to increased enrollment. "Roughly 80 percent of our students live on campus, and we have the land already," Thompson says.

This fall, the college saw its highest enrollment ever, at 1,722 students. For comparison, in 1999, enrollment was around 600 to 700 students, according to Thompson. Last year, it was 1,630 students.

“We're very fortunate because many colleges are seeing declines, especially art colleges," Thompson says. 

The new building will cover a little more than 2 acres of an almost 10-acre, pizza slice-shaped site with multiple buildings and addresses that’s bounded by Old Bradenton Road on the east side, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way on the north, and North Tamiami Trail on the west side. 

The new building will be on the northwest corner of the outlined parcel.

The Catalyst for Creativity campaign also includes funding scholarships, expanding community programs (including with the Sarasota Art Museum and Englewood Art Center); diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives; endowed faculty positions; and a new Center for Teaching Excellence. Funding will also continue to fuel community events and local arts-based partnerships with the Sarasota Art Museum and Englewood Art Center. 

For more information about the Catalyst for Creativity campaign, click here

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