Building on Vision

Five area nonprofits are embarking on brick-and-mortar expansions that will transform how their organizations serve our region.

Building on Vision

Studio shot by Wyatt Kostygan. Renderings courtesy of the organizations.

Pictured above l-r: Campaign Co-chairs for Asolo Repertory Theatre, Margaret Wise and Ann Charters; CEO/President Jennifer Rominecki of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens; Philanthropist/Donor, Carole Raymond for Venice Theatre's Arts Education Center; and CEO Cheryl Mendelson of Van Wezel Foundation. 

Venice Theatre, the Van Wezel Foundation, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, the Asolo Repertory Theatre and Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium are all in the midst of immense, long-term capital campaigns.

These projects—evolving rapidly due to community fundraising and generous donors—will allow the respective organizations to build greater capacity and stronger infrastructures for new, beneficial programs. Join us as they share their inside perspectives on what it’s like to undergo massive nonprofit transformations—from the growing pains to the growing local support. As Venice Theatre ushers in its “next act,” the Van Wezel Foundation prepares for a new Sarasota Performing Arts Center, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens “innovates for a greener future,” the Asolo Repertory Theatre “stages” its own future, and Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium works to make “oceans for all” a reality, the anticipation in Sarasota-Manatee continues to build. 


“The Next Act” for Venice Theatre

As Venice Theatre—the second-largest community theater in the nation—embarked on its 70th season two years ago, it announced a $2.5-million expansion campaign. Known as “The Next Act,” the three-building transformation project now aspires to a $7-million post-pandemic fundraising goal, and the organization is getting close to reaching it.

One of the campaign’s patrons is local philanthropist Dr. William H. Jervey, Jr., who—in the fall of 2019—pledged $1 million to match community support for “The Next Act.”

“As a lover of theater and all things Venice, I am enormously impressed by the quality of the productions and community support of Venice Theatre,” Jervey says. “It disturbs me, however, to hear that Venice Theatre is the ‘second-largest community theater in the United States.’ I say, why not be number one?! Hopefully, ‘The Next Act’ capital campaign will be the first step toward reaching that goal.” Jervey’s contributions have been transformational, according to Venice Theatre’s Producing Executive Director Murray Chase.

“We have been able to accelerate our campaign launch and building plans thanks to Dr. Jervey,” Chase says. “Dr. Jervey’s gift helps students expand their horizons.”

Located in downtown Venice, the Theatre is a gateway to live performances, educational classes and community engagement. New classroom and rehearsal spaces will give the Theatre more chances for the community to explore the power of the arts. And donors have been invited to support the project by naming their own studios, spaces and buildings.

The Theatre is currently home to the Jervey and Pinkerton Theatres, where 17 productions and 15 concerts are staged annually. Renovations are now complete on the lobby bar and restrooms, and a new business center will soon replace the box office. The Technical Arts Center was also recently renovated, and new community engagement programs will soon be housed in the Arts Education Center. Four new studios, a secure lobby and reception area, a greenroom, a boardroom and an upstairs office suite will be available for dance, music and acting classes by the end of 2023.

“We’re so excited to give our students, from ages five to 95, new spaces to experience the power of the arts and grow their talents and skills,” says Venice Theatre’s Assistant Director of Education and Community Engagement Kelly Duyn.

And there are still naming opportunities for spaces throughout the campus, ranging from $5,000 to $1,000,000 for the Tech Arts Center, said Camille Cline, who is running the campaign.  “As of late March, with more than a quarter already matched of the recent $500,000 offered by area resident Carole Freeland Raymond, ‘The Next Act’ is in full swing,” Cline says. 

Venice Theatre, 140 Tampa Ave W., Venice, 941-488-1115,

A Sarasota Performing Arts Center on the Bay

In September 2018, the City of Sarasota approved the “Bay Park Master Plan” to transform 53 acres along Sarasota Bay into a park and green space with a new Sarasota Performing Arts Center as its focus.

The current 80,000-square-foot Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall is 54 years old, sits in a high-risk flood zone and—with 1,741 seats—is at a competitive disadvantage for early routing of national tours. The new Center, supported by the 1987-founded Van Wezel Foundation (a nonprofit devoted to bolstering the arts), will help “advance education and enrich communities by inspiring minds through the power of the arts,” according to the Foundation leaders. It will help advance educational opportunities and create multi-generational arts programming for lifelong learning, as well as utilize the arts to foster civic pride and community inclusion.

“Over 18,000 community members told us their aspirations for a new performing arts center. We heard you,” says Cheryl Mendelson, the CEO of the Foundation. “The new Center will have a 2,200-seat contemporary and accessible main hall to compete for first-run Broadway tours and national artists, a smaller flexible performance space to serve more diverse programming, and multiple public and event spaces—all designed to nurture excellence in artists, inspire wonder in audiences, and spark curiosity in learners.” 

 As for the timeline, the next step is to request bids for architects to design the Center. During this time, the Foundation will continue its practice of seeking input from the community through a series of charrettes. The timeline calls for the Foundation to contract with the architect in late 2022, and this will be followed by 24 months of design.

“The shovel goes in the ground in 2024, followed by 30 months of construction with a planned opening for the 2027-2028 season,” Mendelson says. “Fundraising has begun, and we have hired key positions to lead the planning, fundraising and future operations of the Center.”

The Foundation board members have also committed the first $20 million to jumpstart the fundraising campaign, according to Jim Travers, the Foundation Board of Directors chairman.

Van Wezel Foundation, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, 941-366-5578,


Innovating a Greener Future for Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

The ambitious Master Plan for Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ Downtown Sarasota campus will do three main things, according to President and CEO Jennifer Rominiecki.

It will grow the Gardens by providing more green space within its existing footprint in the heart of Sarasota. It will reveal the hidden treasures of Selby Gardens, with new windows into the world’s best scientifically-documented collection of orchids and bromeliads. And it will safeguard the organization’s future while making it a model for sustainable design, as Selby Gardens becomes the world’s first certified net-positive energy botanical garden complex. 

The campaign to fund this three-phase project, known as “Innovating a Greener Future,” was set at $92 million, including $20 million for endowment. Phase I will cost $51.6 million, of which Selby Gardens needs to raise about $5 million more.

“The generosity of this community has been phenomenal,” Rominiecki says. A “Capping Challenge” to reach that interim goal is underway, with every new gift matched dollar for dollar. Meanwhile, Phase I is proceeding rapidly, with vertical construction having started in April.

When it opens in August 2023, the first phase will include a state-of-the art welcome center, cutting-edge plant research center, and what Selby Gardens calls the Living Energy Access Facility (LEAF). The LEAF will house a garden-to-plate restaurant, expanded gift and plant shop, and onsite parking for up to 450 cars—all topped by a massive solar array that will generate nearly one megawatt of power, helping to earn that net-positive energy rating.

“With Phase I to be complete only 16 months from now, our donors are excited that they will see the results of their philanthropy in such a short time,” Rominiecki says.

The first phase includes an underground stormwater vault that will capture and clean every drop of water that falls on the site before returning it to Sarasota Bay. Connection to the surrounding community will be enhanced with a multiuse recreational trail and an adjacent bayfront pocket park, to be owned by the City of Sarasota but improved and maintained by the Gardens.

Phase II will feature all new glass houses to showcase the Gardens’ living plant collection and expanded classroom, and activity space for everyone from kids to lifelong learners. The final phase will tie everything together with enhanced pathways and outdoor features, plus preservation improvements to the campus’ two historic structures: Selby House and Payne Mansion. Inevitable cost increases in this uncertain environment mean that the Gardens will reassess the costs for Phases II and III as the first phase is completed. But Rominiecki has no doubts about sustaining the current trajectory.

“This is a truly transformational project that will benefit our community while distinguishing the City of Sarasota on the world stage,” she says. “Investor confidence is high, and we are full speed ahead.”

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, 1534 Mound St. Sarasota, 941-366-5731,

The Koski Center Expansion at Asolo Repertory Theatre

The first phase of “Staging Our Future”—a $21-million capital campaign at Asolo Repertory Theatre—is on track to be completed by June. This includes the building of a new structure at the Robert and Beverly Koski Center on Tallevast Road (including the Margot and Warren Coville Rehearsal Hall) and other spaces vital to Asolo Rep’s strategic plan for expanding educational and community enrichment programs.

“To see the way our artistic and engagement programs consistently reach our highest standards while continuing to evolve—we just couldn’t be more proud of our team and our community,” says Asolo Rep Producing Artistic Director Michael Donald Edwards. “But we’ve reached a point where we’ve outgrown our existing infrastructure, and we need these new spaces to continue to support our growth and vision for the future.”

Expanding the Koski Center will have a major economic impact on the community, making it possible to launch national tours from Asolo Rep. A larger costume shop and industry standard storage will enable Asolo Rep to accept contract work, and rent costumes and wigs to other theaters and universities. And a flexible facility will be used for Asolo Rep’s Education and Engagement classes, camps and theatre training (as well as for rentals to the community for events, conferences and rehearsals).

Fundraising for Phase II of the campaign has already begun, with $7 million remaining to complete the next leg of the project. This phase will fund necessary renovations to the existing Koski Center buildings, providing comprehensive infrastructure that includes additional rehearsal space, classrooms, studios, physical therapy facilities, artistic offices, and a dedicated onsite suite for costume fitting, construction and storage.

“We haven’t been sitting still for the past two years,” says Campaign Co-Chair Ann Charters.  “Our wonderful architects, Sweet Sparkman, and contractor, Tandem Construction, have been hard at work this whole time. Phase I construction is coming in on time and on budget.”

The total project budget for “Staging Our Future” includes a $5 million endowment for operating expenses for the new and newly renovated spaces. Asolo Rep has currently raised 85 percent of this endowment goal.

“Despite the pandemic, support for this campaign has never wavered,” Asolo Rep Managing Director Linda DiGabriele says. “Our community champions recognized early on that this project will not only increase our creative capacity, but also drive robust economic activity in the region. In season, Asolo Rep employs more than 100 actors, designers, artisans, stage managers, educators and more.”

Longtime benefactor Deb Kabinoff recently contributed $250,000 to Asolo Rep’s “Staging Our Future” campaign, and a state-of-the-art media production facility will honor her. The Deb Kabinoff Media Production Studio will contain the infrastructure and technology to produce significant educational, institutional and promotional audio/visual media to support and amplify Asolo Rep’s goals.

Asolo Repertory Theatre, 5555 N. Tamiami Trl, Sarasota, 941-351-8000,

Oceans for All at Mote Marine

In 2017, guided by its 2020 Vision and Strategic Plan, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium commissioned feasibility studies to guide the institution’s growth in science and education, and to increase its service to the community and the economy. The studies suggested significant benefits of a rebirth of Mote Aquarium at a new site in Sarasota County, which would free up space for the much-needed growth of Mote’s research enterprise at its primary campus on City Island.

So a $130-million “Oceans for All” capital campaign was launched to create the Mote Science Education Aquarium (Mote SEA). And, in November 2020, Mote broke ground on the Mote SEA facility at Nathan Benderson Park.

 “It has always been Mote’s mission to educate people about the research that scientists are doing globally and the issues our oceans are facing,” says Michael Moore, the special advisor for Mote’s Office of the President. 

Mote SEA is designed to reach nearly 800,000 visitors per year, inspire the next generation of marine scientists, and serve as a major tourism and economic driver for the greater Sarasota-Manatee region. Three state-of-the-art STEM teaching laboratories will bring marine science to life for thousands of area school children, offered at no-cost to Sarasota and Manatee County school districts.

“Mote has been doing a lot for K-12 education for the last few years and the new facility will enhance that,” Moore says. “There are 25 Title I schools with 24,000 students in Sarasota-Manatee, and we need to provide help to these kids and their families. So we will provide each local Title I student and their family a day pass to the facility each year.”

Phase I of the Mote SEA project began last year, and included paving the southern end of the future parking lot and partially completing the northern end of the lot. By September 2021, Mote was preparing to launch Phase II—securing the dirt for the base of Mote SEA, replacing drainage pipes between lakes at the north end of the park, and completing additional site work (this will likely be done by August).  

In September, Phase III will involve putting 260 80-foot pilings into the ground to lay the foundation for the building. The official ribbon cutting for the facility is slated for September 2024. Webcams on Mote SEA’s website show the construction progress, and there is even a virtual 3-D tour.

By the spring of 2022, Mote officials shared that $100 million had been committed to the “Oceans for All” capital campaign by philanthropic, public and corporate supporters. The community support continues to expand as donors realize the economic potential of Mote SEA.

“We have about three million people who live within an hour’s drive of the facility,” Moore says. “And Mote SEA is projected to contribute about $90 million back into the Sarasota-Manatee economy per year.”

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