Ringling College given until June 30 to comply with terms for $1,750,000 county grant for post-production facility

Extension requested because of delay in completing the complex on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way

A webpage banner touts the Ringling College post-production facility. Image courtesy Ringling College of Art + Design

With the completion of the Ringling College of Art + Design’s post-production facility having been delayed until late June, the County Commission this week agreed to give the educational institution more time to use the $987,653 remaining from a 2016 grant the commission awarded the school for the project.

The college already has received $762,347.66 out of the $1,750,000 the county originally agreed to give it, a county staff memo pointed out. It has been reimbursed for expenses associated with the project.

The Feb. 13 motion was unanimous, though Commissioner Michael Moran did tell his colleagues that he plans to focus attention on the project as a draw to encourage people to become permanent members of the county’s workforce.

He will be doing that as the commission’s new appointee to the board of directors of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County (EDC), he said on Feb. 13. Moran took that assignment as the commissioners talked at their December 2017 retreat about which of them should represent the commission on specific committees and boards.

He will be replacing commission Chair Nancy Detert on the EDC board. His first meeting will be on Thursday, he noted.

The total cost of the post-production facility, which will include three soundstages, is expected to be “in the neighborhood of $18 million,” Jeff Maultsby, director of the county’s Office of Business and Economic Development, told the commission on Feb. 13. That figure was based on information from Tracy Wagner, the college’s vice president for finance and administration, Maultsby said.

Comprising 15,188.5 square feet, the facility will be located at 1330 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Sarasota, according to the county’s 2016 grant agreement with the college.

The complex represents a public-private collaboration between the college and Semkhor Productions, the facility’s website notes.

Changes in plans and delays

Graphics explain facets of the complex, which is under construction on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Sarasota. Image courtesy Ringling College of Art + Design

On Feb. 22, 2011, the County Commission first approved a $1,750,000 grant to Ringling College to assist the school with the proposed enlargement and remodeling of the Ann and Alfred Goldstein Center “to include editing rooms, office space and a screening area,” the 2016 grant resolution explains. The expense for that work was estimated at $900,000, while the cost of workstations, a mixing console, color correction technology and location-based filming was anticipated to be $600,000, the resolution notes.

The final $250,000 of the grand was to go toward “consulting services from professional filmmakers regarding the design and marketing of such facilities, and seed money to bring private producers, directors and other filmmaking professionals to Sarasota County as enticement to use the new facility,” the 2016 resolution says.

Subsequently, because of a delay in the college’s plans for those efforts, that grant agreement “became null and void,” the resolution notes.

On April 8, 2014, the commission approved a request from the college to replace the original grant with a new one in the same amount; the money would be used for the construction and equipment of a standalone soundstage and post-production facility, plus the purchase of equipment, according to the Feb. 13 county staff memo.

On Aug. 23, 2016, the commissioners approved the $1,750,000 grant, with the caveat that the facility would be completed and in service no later than Sept. 30, 2017.

Additionally, the resolution called for the college to make the facility available to private individuals and companies “for not less than 300 days per year,” taking precedence over any work by Ringling College students or faculty.

Larry Thompson is president of Ringling College. Image from Twitter

Then, on Oct. 25, 2017, Larry R. Thompson, president of Ringling College, sent a letter to Maultsby of the Office of Business and Economic Development, explaining that after work on the post-production facility began, “we encountered a number of important constructability questions … In order to fully address those design issues, the construction was halted so that a team of engineers, including those responsible for the acoustical properties of the finished spaces, [could decide how best] to accommodate various conflicts and competing interest for physical space within the design.”

Ultimately, Thompson wrote, “[I]t was determined that additional space above the existing roof would need to be constructed to accommodate the appropriate ductwork runs.”

As a result, Thompson continued, “completion of construction and all appropriate acoustical fit-out has been significantly delayed.”

Therefore, Thompson requested the extension of the 2016 grant to June 30 of this year.

Expanding the community workforce

During the Feb. 13 County Commission meeting, Commissioner Moran said he had met with Thompson to talk about the delay. “We have a significant taxpayer investment in this project,” Moran pointed out.

“Dr. Thompson is charging a big hill of making this investment have a return on investment,” Moran said of the new facility. Therefore, Moran added that he would be working with the EDC and the community’s CareerSource Suncoast staff “to do whatever it takes to make this project successful,” with the goal of attracting and retaining young workers in the county.

On numerous occasions — before and after his 2016 election to the County Commission — Moran has emphasized that broadening employment opportunities for young people in the community is a top priority.

He hopes people will come from all over the world to use the new Ringling College facility, Moran told his colleagues on Feb. 13.

This situation, he pointed out, is very different from the typical request for an economic stimulus that the County Commission receives.

Moran added that, in conjunction with his service on the EDC board, he would be returning to his colleagues for direction on ways to help that organization expand the county’s workforce.

“You kind of threw everything in the same laundry basket there,” Chair Detert responded. This issue, she added, is about supporting Ringling College in “doing what it does. … It’s an education facility. They’re educating; they’re training the workforce and then finding them jobs, and they’re highly supported by multiple organizations. We are just one of them.”

Ringling College “is extremely practical and fiscally responsible and doing a great job in our community,” Detert said.

Thompson has “been very successful” for years in doing what he does, she added.

“It’s a little deeper than that,” Moran replied, though he told Detert, “I agree very much.

Commissioner Michael Moran. File photo

Then Moran pointed to section 5.4 of the 2016 grant agreement, which says, “Ringling College shall undertake best efforts to market nationally and internationally the availability of the Post-Production Facility for use by private businesses and individuals. Ringling College shall facilitate the efforts of Sarasota County and its Economic Development partners to attract filmmakers to Sarasota County for digital filmmaking …”

When Moran asked Maultsby what Maultsby’s office would be doing to help the college in that endeavor, Maultsby said that the plan is to have the Sarasota County Film & Entertainment Office, headed by Jeanne Corcoran, work to solicit private entities to use the new Ringling College facility.

Therefore, Moran said, the contract does call for county efforts beyond those of the college. “I will do my best to do my job on this,” in supporting Thompson, he added.

“OK, great,” Detert responded.

Then Moran made the motion to approve the grant period extension, and Commissioner Paul Caragiulo seconded it.