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WBTT launches $6 million capital campaign to renovate Orange Avenue campus

The 'Heart & Soul' campaign will transform 2.5-acre, two-building site into a state-of-the-art performing arts complex

SARASOTA, FL – During Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe's "Emerald City Ball" gala fundraiser last night, the organization officially launched its Heart & Soul Capital Campaign. The effort, which has a goal of $6 million, will transform the organization's 2.5-acre, two-building campus at 10th Street and Orange Avenue into a cohesive, state-of-the-art performing arts center, enable the organization to more fully develop its education program, and create an endowment fund for the future of the troupe. Improvements will be made to both the current theatre building and the historic Binz Building, which will become the headquarters for its administration and education outreach programs.

Already $2.7 millionhas been raised in support of the campaign. Area philanthropist Gerri Aaron has provided a leadership gift of $1 million to spearhead the fundraising effort and will be naming the theatre building. Board member Doris Johnson is the chair of the Campaign Cabinet and Gerri Aaron is the honorary chair; they are joined on the cabinet by an excited group of board members and other community leaders.

In 2013, WBTT purchased the site containing the existing theatre building  (which it had been renting since 2010) and the historic Binz building, and paid off the mortgage the very next year. While WBTT was able to get its theatre building performance-ready and secure office space on Main Street, the situation has not been the most efficient or cost-effective. Consolidating all operations onto the campus is a crucial goal of the Heart & Soul effort. 

The architecture firm of C. Alan Anderson Architect, P.A. and Willis Smith Construction have been selected to work with the board and staff to modify the existing buildings. In the theatre building, plans are to add permanent theatre seating (increased about 15% to around 200 seats), soundproof walls, improve sound and lighting features, and upgrade the restrooms and dressing rooms. The lobby will be expanded to 2,000-square-feet and will include a reception area, will-call office and snack bar. Sprung floors suitable for dancers will be installed. A second stage for rehearsals, and student and young artist productions, will be established. A professional costume and prop shop, and storage areas, will be built.

The Binz building will be renovated to include a first-floor education wing; a 4,000-square-foot event space with a capacity of up to 200 dining guests for corporate or private functions – this space can be subdivided into three multi-purpose education rooms; box office, conference room, and administrative offices; a library; and a 6,000-square-foot roof-top garden terrace event space for patrons and other community organizations.

The plan also calls for a paved courtyard between the theatre and Binz buildings, with outdoor seating for pre-show mingling. There will be expanded parking, with better lighting to assure patron safety.

"Bricks and mortar are only half of the vision – the other half involves the human element," said WBTT founder and artistic director Nate Jacobs. "From my early days as camp counselor, to arts educator and then theatre director, my focus has been to nurture minority youth by promoting self-exploration and encouraging growth, both personally and professionally. If anyone had told me 17 years ago that we would be launching an effort on this scale, I wouldn’t have believed them. But standing here now, knowing the support and love of our wonderful community, I am confident our efforts will be a success!”

The organization is planning a phased-in construction schedule as funds become available. Sufficient funds have been accrued to begin the renovation of the Binz building in the spring of 2017. The theatre renovations will commence once the donations necessary to support the project have been given. WBTT leadership is already considering options to minimize the disruption to its future production schedule.

"Our goal is to create a campus that supports first-class artistic productions that will entertain and enhance our community for years to come as well as education programs that will nurture and develop the next generation of minority artists," said WBTT executive director Julie Leach. "It will be a creative hub where collaboration, innovation, and education flourish. We are grateful to the generous individuals and corporate partners who believe in our vision and are helping to make it a reality."

For more information about WBTT’s Heart & Soul Capital Campaign or to make a gift, go to westcoastblacktheatre.org/heart-and-soul.

About Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe:

The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe of Florida, Inc. is the only professional black theatre company on Florida’s West Coast. The mission is to produce plays that promote and celebrate the African-American experience and attract diverse audiences, while using its productions as a vehicle for supporting African-American artists and building the self-esteem of African-American youth. For more information on WBTT, visit the website at westcoastblacktheatre.org or call (941) 366-1505.

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