The Coastal Star

Boca Raton: Group fleshes out plan for performing arts venue at Mizner Park

ABOVE: Fronted by an improved plaza, the renovated amphitheater is shown to the left, adjacent to a new theater building with circular staircases. BELOW: Inside, the 450-seat performance space shows a digital exhibition but could accommodate an array of other uses. Renderings provided by IBI Group

By Mary Hladky

A cultural group has added significant details to its proposal to build a performing arts center at Mizner Park and soon will seek support from City Council members.
The ambitious project now has a price tag: $126 million, including a $14 million endowment.
If the City Council gives its blessing, the group will begin fundraising and expects a 2025 opening date.
The group intends to reinvigorate the aging Mizner Park and fulfill its original vision as a cultural complex.
“Mizner Park needs its next chapter,” said Andrea Virgin, who leads the group of cultural organizations that want to create a cultural destination.
The updated plans by the Boca Raton Center for the Arts and Innovation now call for completely revamping the existing 3,500-seat amphitheater and adding a new theater building. Those and other proposed venues would accommodate a total of 6,000 people.
City Council members have long talked about installing a retractable roof on the amphitheater to protect the audience from the elements but have balked at the high cost.
This project would do that in dramatic fashion. It would add a permanent, floating, overhead clear canopy that lets in the light but, like photochromic eyeglasses, can darken to block some sunlight.
The amphitheater’s stage would be extended slightly to the south, and a cantilevered “curtain” would be added that can be raised and lowered to separate the stage from an outdoor plaza.
The amphitheater could be used as it is now. But it would also have a 450-seat interior performance space.
The center would feature “multi-form” theaters. Virgin said they would be the first such theaters in the Southeast U.S. and among only a handful in the nation.
Describing them as a “forward-thinking theater approach,” Virgin said they would not be used for a single purpose. They do not have fixed seating, walls, ceilings or floors. Instead, all these elements can be reconfigured to meet the needs of any foreseeable use.
That means the theaters could host concerts, stage productions, conferences, political debates, product launches, career fairs, banquets and weddings.
The center includes many other elements, such as a 99-seat performance hall, a rooftop terrace that could accommodate 200 people and outdoor performance space.
Existing amphitheater parking would remain. A proposed five-deck parking garage would add another 300 spaces.
Virgin has long maintained that her group does not intend to create a venue that would compete with the Kravis Center or Broward Center for the Performing Arts. The main hall, for example, will seat a maximum of 1,100 people.
When Virgin outlined the plan to the Boca Chamber in a virtual meeting on Aug. 19, Chamber president and CEO Troy McLellan lauded it as a “wicked awesome presentation.”
Post-COVID-19, he said, “The one thing we will crave and need is a venue like this where we can come together and gather.”
City Council members were similarly blown away when Virgin presented the first iteration of the proposal to them two years ago. Jeremy Rodgers, then deputy mayor, called it “very, very compelling.”
Originally, the group wanted to build a performing arts complex on city-owned land east of the Spanish River Library. Last year, the group scaled back, proposing to locate it on city-owned land in Mizner Park, where people could take advantage of the Boca Raton Museum of Art, nearby restaurants and the planned Brightline station.
Council members gave “conceptual support” to the proposal at the time but were cautious. They wanted assurances that the cultural community would provide adequate financial support so the center would not become a financial burden for the city.
Virgin will make a new presentation to the council this fall. An exact date is not yet set.
A potential sticking point could be Virgin’s request for a 99-year ground lease on parcels the city owns in Mizner Park. The City Council has long been leery of giving up control of its land.
But Virgin said the city would be getting far more than it would give up. Her group’s economic analysis shows the center would spur economic activity that would generate $10.5 million in additional tax revenue for Boca Raton in the first five years.
The cultural group also wants the city to continue paying for the existing public programming at the amphitheater. It would assume the cost of amphitheater maintenance.
If the cultural group and the city reach a deal, she said, members would raise money for the project from the cultural community and through grants.
Group members include Boca Ballet Theater, the Boca Raton Museum of Art, Festival of the Arts Boca, Symphonia chamber orchestra, Harid Conservatory, Youth Orchestra of Palm Beach County and Boca Raton Theatre Group.

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