The latest on Civic and Cultural Core project
An idea of constructing a “downtown” area on Sanibel for public gatherings now has solid roots after three years of planning for a Civic and Cultural Core project.
An updated and more detailed plan was unveiled Monday, March 28, to the Sanibel City Council during a workshop, which was held to hear the committee which has been planning the Civic Core project.
The Civic Core committee has representatives from the Island Seniors, Inc. (Center 4 Life), the City of Sanibel, the Sanibel Community Association (Community House) and BIG ARTS. Each of the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village and Sanibel Public Library had input, as well.
Ultimately, it will be the citizens of Sanibel to decide if the Civic Core project will pass, because it will be decided upon with a future referendum vote.
“Our goal is to create a place consistent with the Sanibel Plan where we gather to celebrate community, the arts, culture, lifelong learning and healthy living,” said Ralph Clark, who sits on the BIG ARTS board as vice president and Civic Core working project committee.
The projected cost for the entire Civic Core plan is $42 million, with the breakdown in costs being $21 million for a performance hall, theater, gallery and education center; $8 million for a new Center4Life, pavilions and other facilities and $13 million for the infrastructure (roads, parking).
“We are anticipating the availability of grants and other funding sources at $22 million,” said Chuck Ketteman, who also sits on the BIG ARTS board and the Civic Core committee. “BIG ARTS will be responsible to raise $12 million in private capital, in addition to $3 million to add in the technology and seating in the performance halls.
“We are envisioning the City financing $8 million to the project.”
In addition, the plan has the City contributing 25 acres to the project and BIG ARTS one acre.
The plan also depicted the estimated costs to property owners of Sanibel, estimated by the annual costs for an average Sanibel house, which is $530,000.
Depending on the length of the loan being either 20 or 30 years, the estimate for each household per year was between $95 to $111.
“And we are estimating those numbers and operating costs conservatively,” Clark said.
Operation cost sharing was also unveiled, with all program costs “borne by leases”, while the Center4Life will still be supported by the City.
BIG ARTS will pay for maintenance, upkeep and replacement of courtyard and the garden areas. The SCA also will be responsible for maintenance and upkeep of the pavilions which will include utilities and trash.
The grassroots efforts to creating the Civic Core plan emanated from the need of upgrading the facilities of the Center4Life, BIG ARTS and the Community House.
Already, the SCA is ready to start its renovations on the Community House, which includes preserving the historic features, expanding the kitchen, restrooms and improve flow and expanded staff area and storage.
The new pavilions designated in the Civic Core plan would host the major outdoor events on the north side of Periwinkle, while the original Community House will stay where it is and host the smaller gatherings.
“We at the SCA see our renovation project as the first step in this Civic Core process, the first visible evidence of it,” said SCA board member and Civic Core committee member Tom Sharbaugh. “Two needs are being addressed by the the Civic Core project. First, it creates outdoor event space. Second, it addresses the need for additional shared community parking to accommodate people who come to these events.”
BIG ARTS also has been looking to improve its aging facilities for over six years. Major upgrades need to be made to Schein Hall and the need to expand the “back of house” facilities for Strauss Theater.
BIG ARTS also has a need to expand on its educational and staff spaces, while improving handicapped parking and overall create safer, better organized parking.
“We have three different spaces where staff is spread out and as you all know, having that creates problems,” Ketteman said. “One of the other key issues we face is that we have a very interesting and dangerous parking situation. During our events in the evening, people have to park from City Hall to BIG ARTS and have to walk in lit and unlit areas. We are lucky we haven’t had people fall or break a leg, yet.”
Ketteman continued by stating BIG ARTS officials took the cue from the City that the current area the facilities are in, have filled the footprint and expansion on the Dunlop Avenue area would be virtually impossible.
“With the idea of a new campus, we all stepped back and said this is so much better than any alternative we have looked at,” Ketteman said.
The Center4Life is floating in the same boat as the Community House and BIG ARTS, in that its facilities are outdated and in need of major repair or renovation.
“Since our inception, the Island Seniors, Inc., has grown to over 700 members,” said Center4Life representative Katie Reed. “There are four basic needs. The first is improved overall parking, because now there are only 47 parking spaces and only two handicapped spots. People have to park across Palm Ridge and that is a safety issue.
“We need increased space to house our programs, including having only one room for exercise classes and two small classrooms for activities. Many of our programs have been moved to the Rec Center and some arts and crafts classes have been cancelled due to lack of space. We also need flexibility for our outdoor space.”
Clark included in the upcoming architectural plans, the facilities will be staying within the style of Sanibel tradition.
Another huge benefit to the community would be the addition of parking spaces, raising the number of slots from 178 to 579. The plan also calls for three access ways, which will reorient the high volume of traffic away from Periwinkle bottleneck during multi-day events.
“Currently, there are two ways in and that’s by Wooster and Dunlop,” Sharbaugh said. “The new plan will have three entry and exit points. It also would help pedestrian safety, since there would be very little crossing traffic on Periwinkle (since the outdoor Pavilions are located near the parking on the north side of Periwinkle).”
In the presentation, it was told to the City Council that the City would manage construction and would own all the facilities. BIG ARTS and SCA will provide conceptual design and detailed specs, while BIG ARTS will fit out and fund interiors of the performance halls, including audio, video, seating, draperies and other costs.
Another aspect to the plan is the large amount of green space included in the new campuses, which goes along with the Sanibel Plan.
Richard Johnson of the SCA and part of the project committee, noted time is of the essence to move into the next stages to help secure the private funding, because those sources won’t be there for an extended amount of time.
The proposed timeline was to have the City Council approve for Mayor Ruane to seek other funding sources and in August have a funding source committee set up.
In September, a public outreach initiative will be set up and by November, have it on the election ballot as a referendum. If passed, the project could be launched by January of 2017.
In the City Council’s comments time, Mayor Ruane added that proposed timeline is “aggressive” and more time probably will be needed to get through to having the Sanibel residents vote on the referendum.
“The concept of this, is you the voters, will have the opportunity to pass this and move on with this,” Ruane said. “The City Council hasn’t seen all the pieces, yet. We will need to know what the operating costs will be and what they are currently are today. I am comfortable with where we are, though.
“I had a conversation with one of the originators of the Sanibel Plan, Porter Goss, and he told me he thinks this is an essential ingredient, which is a town concept. We’ve been down this road before with the Rec Center (project) and we are now at full capacity with our programs run there. That brings me great joy, too.”
Councilman Chauncey Goss also is in support of the current plan and was pleased the three organizations came together and worked together as one to make a legitimate strategy to make this happen.
“We have three tired, old buildings and three organizations to come together,” Goss said. “To see the three of you come together and pulling your resources together, it’s exciting to see.”
Councilman Marty Harrity also liked what he saw from the three organizations.
“I am in favor of this project, but I am only one vote, because it will be the citizens of Sanibel who will decide this,” Harrity said. “This has to be a community project and the next questions will be, how are we going to pay for it?
“The most important thing, though, is we need total transparency.”
Councilmen Mick Denham and Jim Jennings were also in favor of the project and hope to hear and discuss more during their next meeting, which is April 5.
“We all know the parking and traffic is always a problem and this will help in both areas,” Jennings said. “I want to be optimistically supportive of this project, but ultimately, it will be up to the citizens because they are in the driver’s seat.”
Since it was a workshop, no vote was taken. The Civic Core project will come front and center on the City Council’s agenda in its April 5 meeting.