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Arts proponent has a backup plan for center

By Amanda Palleschi
Published April 6, 2007


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One way or another, Wayne Otto wants Brandon to finally have a performing arts center.

If an adequate arts facility ends up as part of a proposed multipurpose community center, that's fine with Otto. If not, he's poised to push ahead with his own effort to get a 500-seat theater.

For about a year, community leaders have studied and talked about the Brandon Advantage Center, a $13.4-million facility that's envisioned as a community gathering spot with many uses. The problem: There's still no site or guaranteed funding.

Otto, founder of Stagedoor Performing Arts and a candidate for honorary Brandon mayor, believes his vision for a theater could merge with plans for the Advantage Center.

But to be a useful arts venue, Otto said, it needs certain amenities: 500 seats, plenty of rehearsal space, a scene shop, and professional lighting and sound equipment for dance, theater and music performances.

"A multipurpose facility isn't designed for that. It's designed for all kinds of things," Otto said of the Advantage Center. "Of course, I think Brandon is plenty large enough to allow for a multipurpose facility and a performing arts center."

Otto has pledged the funds raised from his honorary mayoral candidacy - donations from residents and businesses that go to charitable or community causes - as seed money for a performing arts center.

Site woes

But even getting a site for the Advantage Center has been problematic since former state Sen. Tom Lee of Valrico snagged $3.4-million of state money for the facility in 2006.

A consultant identified a site near Brandon Parkway and Lakewood Drive as the best spot for the Advantage Center. While Lee said it's the best location, the area's inadequate roads can't support a large venue.

"While there's a demand out there and a desire to move it forward, we've been unable to identify a piece of property that will accommodate a 50,000-square-foot facility with parking demands and with a centrally located position in the community," he said.

The consultant is now evaluating other locations, including property at Hillsborough Community College.

State Rep. Trey Traviesa, who took over the project when Lee's term ended in 2006, is concerned about finding a site that keeps taxpayers' costs down. "We want to spend as little taxpayer money as we have to," Traviesa, R-Tampa, said. "We can't get to the number at Main Street that makes sense from a taxpayer perspective."

Searching for funds

While Traviesa works to find more state money, Otto and others have their own ideas about where to locate funds.

The Greater Brandon Arts Council will support plans for the Brandon Advantage Center if it includes a performance space, said Kim Hall, the council's chairwoman. Until the Advantage Center's plans are finalized, the council will have its own fund-raisers.

"So many organizations are interested in supporting the arts, and we haven't tapped that resource yet," she said.

But Lee doubts the community's needs - a center that is flexible enough to support multiple uses such as a job training center, art studio and lecture hall - can be met without substantial government funding.

"You could put something together where you have state, local and private funding all coming together," he said. "But for this community to raise any substantial portion of what it would cost to build this facility, I think, is unrealistic."

Aside from his personal interest in a standalone performing arts center, Otto said funding is another reason to strike out on his own. His proposal, at 12,000 to 15,000 square feet, would be much smaller and less expensive than the Brandon Advantage Center. He hopes the money he raises in the honorary mayoral campaign will attract federal and state grants. "My thinking is that if we build it with grant money, it doesn't come with strings attached," he said.

For any plan to come together - whether it's a community theater, a multipurpose Advantage Center, or both - everyone must put their heads together, said John Sullivan, owner of The Barn, a black-box theater in Brandon. That hasn't happened yet.

"To be successful you have to get an agreement on what they want before anybody goes too far," he said.

Amanda Palleschi can be reached at apalleschi@sptimes.com or 813-661-2453.

[Last modified April 5, 2007, 07:08:08]


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