Todays Herald Tribune……
Broadway king coming to Sarasota

SARASOTA — One of Broadway’s premier production and theater companies has signed on to operate a new performing arts center that, together with a Waldorf-Astoria hotel, would anchor a $1 billion project downtown along U.S. 41.

Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment’s commitment to manage a 800-seat theater marks the latest boost to the Proscenium project, slated for a six-acre tract across from the old Sarasota Quay.

Earlier this month, Proscenium developer Lion’s Gate Development Group Inc. revealed that Hilton Hotels Corp. had tentatively agreed to open a Waldorf-Astoria with 225 rooms and 35,000 square feet of meeting space.

Though it will be designed to accommodate various forms of entertainment, from concerts to dance to film, Nederlander’s theater will primarily present touring productions of off-Broadway and smaller Broadway shows, such as “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” and “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” for two- and four-week runs.

“Sarasota has a strong base in, and interest for, the arts,” said Robert Nederlander Jr., president of Nederlander Worldwide. “It has an educated and wealthy demographic that we think will gravitate to the shows we’ll bring into the market.”

Nederlander Worldwide hopes its Sarasota theater — for which it has signed a 10-year lease with Lion’s Gate, with extension options — will join San Francisco as among the first in a series of regional theaters nationwide.

The company intends to open its second regional theater in September, in Bethesda, Md., a Washington suburb.

Nederlander said he believes his company’s Sarasota theater, which will cost Lion’s Gate about $30 million to develop, will fill a niche in the local arts community.

By comparison, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall has 1,761 seats, the Asolo Repertory Theatre holds 500 and the Sarasota Opera roughly 1,000.

Local arts leaders generally welcomed the Nederlander Worldwide plan, though they remain split on the long-term impact such a theater would have on existing venues.

“Sarasota is growing by leaps and bounds and the arts community has continued to grow with the population. It would be an interesting piece of the mix and it would be something new,” said Linda diGabriele, managing director of the Asolo Repertory Theatre. “This town has thrived on all the cultural activity that we have. I have no reason to assume that one more piece of it would bring any kind of chaos.”

But John Wesley White, the Van Wezel’s interim executive director, said Sarasota already is a fairly competitive market, where arts groups sometimes struggle to fill seats — especially in the summer.

“Any additional venue of almost any size represents a competitive factor for us,” Wesley White said. “It’s difficult to anticipate how much business we might lose to that kind of facility.”

Still, he acknowledges that groups like the Sarasota Ballet or the Florida West Coast Symphony might be able to use the Nederlander theater during breaks in productions.

Nederlander Worldwide brings with it both a solid reputation and a nearly unequaled cache in the theater business.

The 96-year-old company owns or operates nine Broadway theaters in New York, including the Marquis, Gershwin and Nederlander theaters, and a string of performance houses in cities such as Chicago, San Diego, Charleston and Tucson.

Company Chairman James Nederlander, Robert Jr.’s uncle, is widely credited with introducing outdoor amphitheaters to the United States.

An affiliate operates the Staples Center and Greek Theater, both in Los Angeles, and other concert halls nationwide.

Nederlander entities have produced Broadway shows ranging from “The King and I” to “Music Man” and “The Color Purple,” and Nederlander Worldwide is in the midst of expanding its international base from London to China.

“They’re among the kings of Broadway,” said Gary Moyer, Lion’s Gate’s president. “It will be excellent to have them in Sarasota, and we feel this is the right location for this, in the city’s cultural corridor.”

Lion’s Gate hopes to complete the Proscenium project — with the five-star hotel, 175 residences, 360,000 square feet of office, retail and restaurant space and 2,000 parking spaces — sometime in late 2010.
The development company intends to hold a design meeting with city planners early next month, and formally submit plans for the Proscenium sometime this summer.

The Development will be located just South of the Renaissance, Alinari and Hotel Indigo between U.S. 41 and Cocoanut.