Boca Raton gives OK for Center for Arts and Innovation to become reality

Boca Raton gives OK for Center for Arts and Innovation to become reality

The Center for Arts and Innovation has been approved by the Boca Raton City Council. The formal decision on the ground lease and the development agreement comes two years after the council voted to move forward with the concept. It also comes five years after the initial concept was developed by Andrea Virgin and team.

The official OK to move forward with the project came Oct. 12, and the signing of the lease documents happened Oct. 21.

The new arts and cultural center will embrace potential leading-edge technology and an innovation center that is intended to set it apart from being a traditional

performance venue. And the location that was approved is in Mizner Park, the heart of downtown in Boca. It will also be located near the new Brightline train station that is being constructed in the city.

Groundbreaking for the new center is planned for 2025. The lease agreement runs for a term of 74 years, with two 10-year renewals as an option or extending the time. That means that the arts center could potentially be around for nearly 100 years.

The project’s cost was conceptually estimated in early 2020 (pre-pandemic), but is currently undergoing an update due to the escalation in construction pricing as well as a furtherance of the program development and planning process.

The center will consist of flexible and multipurpose performance, event and interactive educational spaces making use of leading-edge technologies. The renovation of the existing amphitheater next to the Boca Museum of Art is slated to be the first phase of the project, followed by the new performing arts center, capable of holding 6,000 attendees.

Andrea Virgin

Andrea Virgin, president at Boca Raton Center for Arts and Innovation, could be

considered the pioneer and soul of the new center. She has been working nonstop on the project to try to make it a reality for the last five years. The decision by the Boca City Council to approve the project allowed her to breathe a sigh of relief after the marathon project development.

“We’re excited that the City Council is excited about the opportunity, and we’re ready to hit the ground running,” she said. “The idea for the Boca Arts Center was generated back in 2017, so it’s been a long time.”

But the work of negotiating terms and specifics with the city didn’t start until two years ago.

“A lot of great work happened in that time, including coming up with agreements both sides could feel comfortable with,” she said.

The issue of adequate fundraising has been a point of conversation between the arts center team and the council. The city’s preference in recent negotiations was for the funds to be raised before the approval of the center went through. But Virgin points out that no one would commit their money before documents were signed.

“We’ve been having wonderful meetings and conversations with philanthropists and other strategic partners for years now,” Virgin said. “But the conversation really could not continue until the ground lease was signed. Right now, we’re in the process of scheduling those next meetings with the supporters and partners that we’ve been speaking to.”

The next steps are clear for Virgin, who is looking forward to getting the project rolling along.

“For the next couple of years, we have two main tasks,” she said. “One is raising the capital for the project. Right now, we’re focused on the capital for the building. So it’s great that we have that already underway. We’re also engaging our design process to commence again. We couldn’t really spend more money on a final design if the land wasn’t secured.”

One of the main reasons that the goal is for a groundbreaking in 2025 is that it’s the 100th anniversary of Boca Raton.

“We’d love to be able to celebrate the last 100 years of our history as a city as we embark on creating the next 100 years worth of infrastructure,” Virgin said.

Council supporter

Boca Raton City Council Member Andrea O’Rourke has been one of the big supporters of the arts center concept. She has been involved in the negotiations with the planned center since the beginning.

The arts center was on the verge of being approved over a month ago before Hurricane Ian, but there were still some concerns about the project that were hanging over the final decision by the council.

“In our last special meeting, the arts center team was tasked with three points to address in terms of the issue of liability and damages,” she said. “The city, the staff and the city attorney were not willing to recommend the plan for approval at that point, because there were several outstanding issues that they didn’t feel confident about recommending.”

O’Rourke said that the council takes the staff recommendations seriously, so they agreed to ask Virgin and the rest of her team to come up with solutions to their concerns.

“The arts center group went back to the table, and they ended up dropping the damage issue with the city,” she said. “The other issue was their building timeline. Both of those issues were addressed, opening up the likelihood of a ‘yes’ from the council.”

O’Rourke said that she has always been an advocate for the arts becoming more a part of the downtown experience.

“One of the things I noted at one of our meetings in the past was that, when it came to any of the arts performances in Boca, we had to use the local high schools as a venue,” she said. “I said that it was time for us to graduate from high school. We needed to have a performing arts center.”

According to O’Rourke, the use of Mizner Park as a cultural center has been knocked around here and there over the years.

“Up until now, the Mizner Park area has been mostly a shopping, living, eating and workplace space,” she said. “The cultural arts aspect really never got fully realized. So when this idea came forward with this location, I just thought it was a great idea.”

Another selling point for O’Rourke was Virgin, who relentlessly has worked to make the concept become a reality.

“We really needed a visionary with the fortitude that Andrea Virgin brought to the arts center project,” she said. “She’s got an art and culture background as a ballet equation that someone needed to make this vision happen ”