Buzz Worthy

If you build it, they will come

Do you ever wish that $5 million would fall out of the sky and into your lap?

I bet the Manatee Players often do.

That $5 million could complete their new venue. Just $3.5 million, though, could at least open its doors and get audiences in to see main stage shows. The total $5 million will provide the space needed to start new educational programming with a smaller studio theater and classrooms.

This August will be four years since the ground-breaking, and sadly, the $15 million project still isn’t finished. The safe, pay-as-you-build route is a slow process that can only be expedited through more community support.

That’s why last week the Kiwanis Club of Bradenton heard about how the venue is one of the key pieces to the city’s downtown revitalization. Five speakers presented a program to Kiwanis members during Tuesday’s weekly meeting to express the need to complete the theater. The club has already contributed $100,000.

Janene Witham, the troupe’s capital development director, told members and guests that the venue is 75 percent complete.

While the concrete block on Third Avenue doesn’t look like much from the outside, once finished it could be what Harry Kinnan, member of the Manatee County School Board, calls a legacy for future generations.

Kinnan, along with Manatee County Chamber of Commerce president Bob Bartz, local lawyer Edward Vogler, Herald editorial editor Chris Wille and Realize Bradenton executive director Johnette Isham spoke at the Kiwanis meeting about the enormous benefits the community can gain from such a venue.

For Kinnan, the new theater means a place that will further enhance area student involvement. The troupe’s current home has attracted more than 1,000 young people in the last decade, he told Tuesday’s audience.

Wille talked about how Spokane, Wash., turned its ailing downtown around through refurbishing an old landmark hotel along with a old theater. The city’s efforts attracted new growth in the area in the form of galleries, shops, restaurants and the like. Could that be our future, too?

All of the speeches during the Kiwanis program, in laymen’s terms, boil down to the old saying: “If you build it, they will come.” “They” meaning you, me, tourists and new businesses. We can create a vibe that rivals that of downtown Sarasota or downtown St. Petersburg. As Isham likes to say, culture is an economic stimulator.

“It’s creating the environment for people and businesses to flourish,” she said.

January Holmes, features writer, can be reached at 745-7057. Follow her on Twitter at @accentbradenton.