Boca Raton CRA backs idea for performing arts venue near Mizner Amphitheater

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By: Dale King Contributing Writer

An assemblage of Boca Raton cultural arts supporters eyeing a four-acre vacant city-owned lot adjacent to the Mizner Park Amphitheater for a performing arts center has won “conceptual support” of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency.

The citizens group banded together as the Boca Raton Arts District Exploratory Corporation continues to put its proposal together, though it may not return to the City Council Chamber for six months to a year.

At a recent meeting, the Boca Raton City Council, sitting as the CRA, voted to endorse the project, but steered carefully clear of committing either money or land to the project.

“I’m glad to see the community support,” Mayor Scott Singer told committee members in the audience. “You’re on the right path.”

Singer added: “This is still a very ambitious project. We’re not deeding the land or binding ourselves, but we want to put wind behind your sails.”

Lead organizer Andrea Virgin, head of Boca-based Virgin Design and a professional ballerina with experience at the Boca Ballet, offered the CRA “an update of 10 months of very hard work” to “enhance the arts district.”

Initially, the panel came in with four possible sites for a performing arts center, favoring, at the time, a 21-acre parcel near the Spanish River Library.

But Virgin said that parcel is one of the last large pieces of city property not being used. The group had also considered the location to the east side of the amphitheater at the north end of Mizner Park. She noted that the initial plan for that portion of the multi-use project was to build a museum, an amphitheater and a performing arts center at the site.

“The museum and amphitheater are built,” she said. The arts group’s proposal “can fulfill the original plan.”

Virgin noted that the group represents most of the cultural organizations in Boca. The proposal being mulled for the Mizner north site would provide space for “15 different nonprofits” for rehearsal space, offices and other usages.

She said the organization she heads also wants to “upgrade and enhance” the amphitheater with accoutrements such as a weather-resistant cover, improved seating and other “practical, but aesthetically pleasing” embellishments.

The new group is working with DeVos Institute of Arts Management, IBI Group Architects and the Gunster law firm to design, plan, manage and fund the project, Virgin told council members.

Following Virgin’s presentation, Marleen Forkas, a well-known, generous benefactor to many nonprofits, particularly those related to the arts, addressed the CRA in support of the effort.

“Other towns have put up small cultural arts centers. There is no reason we can’t,” Forkas said. “[Boca Raton] is an all-around good place to live and bring up children.”

Arlene Herson, a community activist, host and producer of a syndicated cable TV show, told the CRA: “We are so lucky to have such dedicated people” working on a community-service plan. To which Deputy Mayor Jeremy Rodgers responded: “Many of us in the room are supporters of arts and culture.”

Both Mayor Singer and CRA Chairwoman Andrea Levine O’Rourke said they were glad the arts group backed off from its original plan to use the Spanish River site, though Virgin pointed out it has not been totally scrapped.

Noting that she “has been a supporter,” O’Rourke said the proposal for a performing arts center near the amphitheater “is also an economic stimulator.”

After a public hearing and discussion, council members unanimously approved the following resolution: “The city of Boca Raton expresses conceptual support for the development of a vision for a potential performing arts and cultural center located adjacent to the Mizner Park Amphitheater on property owned by the city of Boca Raton and the Community Redevelopment Agency.”