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Exterior work begins on Manatee Players theater

BRADENTON — Manatee Players is another step closer to getting its new $15 million performing arts center up and running. And soon, the progress will show.

Thanks to community donors, the local theater troupe met and exceeded its challenge of raising $272,000 in 60 days. Within 45 days, $275,000 was collected. Part of the money will go toward exterior work on the new venue at 502 Third Ave. W.

“We have come a long way,” Nina Richardson, board president of the theater, said during a Tuesday press conference at the new theater. “We are inching forward. We are showing progress, especially in this time of economic turmoil. I just cannot reiterate enough how much the community and the board have been coming behind this project.”

The $272,000 was the price tag given to complete the next phase of construction, which includes preparing the outside concrete for future stucco and paint work. Inside, the amount also covers construction of administration offices on the second floor.

The Players are $3.5 million away from a grand opening, though no date has been set to reach that goal.

Work on the exterior will begin in two weeks, George Najmy, chair of the organizations’s Capital Campaign, said during the press conference. The phase will last three months, then exterior paint and stucco will be added.

Najmy proposed the challenge in June as outgoing board president during the troupe’s annual board meeting. He hoped it would spur greater fundraising efforts.

Najmy said putting out the challenge was risky with the economy, but he’s thrilled with the results.

“To exceed that dollar amount in less time than was planned is pretty exciting,” he said.

Among his many thanks to the city of Bradenton and troupe board members, Najmy also gave kudos to the Players’ staff and volunteers, who helped spread the word about the challenge.

One donor heard about the fundraiser, decided to go on a hard-hat tour and afterward gave the theater $50,000, Najmy said.

The donor wanted to remain anonymous.

Though work has progressed for months inside the 38,000-square-foot space, it has been hard for passersby to notice. All they see from the outside is the concrete shell of the building. Richardson said the building isn’t just for the Manatee Players but for the community, allowing residents and organizations to host various events, too.

“It will be an absolute jewel when it’s finished,” she said. “Manatee County is going to have one special, special cultural arts performing center.”