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Players still in need of $4 million

BRADENTON — If almost every person in Bradenton gave $77, it would be enough to open the doors of the new Manatee Players Performing Arts Center.

Though the math works on paper, it is a tough feat to achieve in a lackluster economy that has residents pinching pennies to make ends meet.

But the award-winning troupe, which still needs $4 million to get the facility up and running, hopes to meet some of the cost through stronger grassroots efforts.

Part of its marketing and fundraising strategy is to present the $15 million arts center as a cultural hub for the city — a venue that houses not just theater but a number of civic, educational and artistic activities, events that fit nicely into Realize Bradenton’s downtown development cultural plan.

“As well as being a venue for outside entertainment, it will enhance the economy of down- town Bradenton,” said Manatee Players board president George Najmy.

The building is 65 percent complete, said Janene Witham, Manatee Players development director. Steelwork continues, and it will be followed by more masonry work to develop bathrooms and the stairwells leading to dressing rooms and the orchestra pit.

Though the project is a year behind schedule because of slow fundraising during the recession, the troupe is glad the project hasn’t completely stalled, Najmy said. He hopes the building will be finished by 2011.

“Given the state of the economy, we’re very happy to able to continue with construction,” he said.

The Manatee Players still seek a major donor to help, but any donation gets the troupe a step closer.

Witham said the capital campaign committee is pushing stronger grassroots efforts to expand support. Area households will be asked to donate at least $10.

The troupe already has more than 1,600 Manatee County households that have donated, Witham said. Donations have ranged from $1 to more than $2.5 million.

“We want to build that base by the end of the summer to 2,000,” Witham said. “By doing that, we’re building the awareness.”

Though $4 million gets the building open, $6 million completes the project in its entirety. That includes dressing rooms and storage for props, both on the second floor. The first floor will house a main stage theater, a studio theater and a grand lobby, among other perks.

Witham stressed that the new arts center will serve the community as a venue where local organizations can also meet or perform, or both. The facility will be used as a training ground as well. The troupe plans to partner with the Manatee County school board for a new film program and a two-year technical theater apprenticeship program that earns students union cards.

The possibilities for the venue are endless, but many residents are unaware of what the venue could do for the area, Witham said. The Realize Bradenton committee is already embracing the arts center in its cultural planning, said Realize Bradenton steering committee co-chair Susie Walters.

“It will create the synergy for that area that developers are looking for,” she said.

January Holmes, features writer can be reach at 745-7057.