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Approved: New $115 million performing arts center in Boca Raton closer to being a 'cultural hub'

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Boca Raton Center for Arts and Innovation
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A rendering image showing one of the entrances into the Boca Raton Center for Arts and Innovation in Boca Raton.

The founders of a new $115 million dollar performing arts center in Boca Raton's Mizner Park say it will reinvigorate the cultural scene in the city, giving people from across South Florida another incentive to support local arts.

Speaking two weeks after the Boca Raton City Council
greenlit the project, Andrea Virgin, president and chairwoman of the new Boca Raton Center for Arts and Innovation, says in addition to traditional performing arts— such as ballet and symphonies—they are looking to expand into digital and immersive media experiences.

Art aficionados could explore the center's helical screens and retractable seating and balconies, stroll on its rooftop terrace and gaze through its open-air planetarium.

Virgin, the former ballet dancer turned civil engineer, envisions the project, currently under a pre-construction and development agreement, to be an invigorating “cultural hub” of the community.

“When you talk about this south Palm Beach County, north Broward County area, we don’t have as much vibrancy in terms of cultural infrastructure to offer and that’s what this project aims to fill,” Virgin said. “So it was certainly even more exciting now because those who moved to this area really desire this type of infrastructure.”

She added: “You got great cultural facilities in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, you skipped Boca. And you get to West Palm Beach and north of that. And Boca has just sat in the 60 mile gap for decades and residents here have long desired it.”

Virgin says the center will accommodate 6,000 people between its main theater, intimate spaces and renovated amphitheater.

But shovels aren't ready to be put in the ground quite yet. The center has to keep track of any cost escalation.

The council passed the project 4-1. Despite showing support for the center, Mayor Scott Singer was the dissenting voice. As the local economy struggles with inflation, Singer wanted to cross-check the construction cost and have a definitive answer for how long and how much it will take to build the center.

Virgin and the center’s backers, who are footing the bill, argue that construction costs vary depending on the market and it’s difficult to estimate the cost over a two to three year period.

“Steel will be a different price tomorrow and concrete will be at a different price a month from now,” she said. “So as much as we'd all love to tie down exactly what this is going to cost today, the design is extremely early days and we're not building it today.”

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Boca Raton Center for Arts and Innovation
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Photo rendering of Boca Raton Center for Arts and Innovation, situated in the north end of Mizner Park.

During a special meeting, the City Council and Community Redevelopment Agency of Boca Raton approved a 74-year ground lease, with two ten-year extension options for a total of 94 years.

Residents mostly showed eagerness toward the project. Organizers will develop the center and redevelop the old Mizner Park Amphitheater on the north end of the park, next to the Boca Raton Museum of Art.

Long term leases often shape the landscape of cities. The historic amphitheater, a cultural bedrock of the community for more than 30 years, will continue to be used as an outdoor space. But it will be covered with a “structural curtain,” which will also allow the front of the amphitheater to be closed for “climate controlled performances” and as a versatile, mix-use space for various types of events.

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The Center for Arts and Innovation
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Artist rendering of an digital and immersive media space for The Center for Arts and Innovation in Boca Raton.

Economic boost

The new Brightline station set to open later this year, situated just minutes from the city’s downtown area, will bring business and cultural tourists to the center— a new economic engine to promote more activity offerings, more foot traffic for restaurants and retail, according to projections.

The center’s board commissioned an independent economic impact study in August 2020 that estimates the center to bring in more than $10 billion dollars to the local economy over a 30-year period. The overall, annual economic benefits to the center in the first five years will be more than $342 million dollars. And, according to the study, it will increase the tax revenue by about $10 million.

“Those tourists that are coming to this area are not just booking hotel rooms, they’re coming and eating at our restaurants,” Virgin said. “They’re coming to shop at our stores. They’re coming and experiencing everything that the great Boca Raton area has to offer.”

Groundbreaking is scheduled for 2025, with construction cost estimates ranging north of $115 million for hard costs, working capital reserves, maintenance reserves, and endowments to be raised prior to opening day.

Building plan 

Now that the center has the ground lease approved, they will complete the design process, which will also determine "price adjustments and updates," Virgin said. She said the center has raised about $15M in cash and in kind donations and the organization is in discussion with donors after the city's approval.

If the Boca Center for Arts and Innovation can’t raise the money, the city can terminate the deal. Under the lease agreement, the city must provide a 30-day notice before ending a lease or development agreement, which would allow the center time to retrieve, if necessary, a preliminary injunction that would temporarily stop the action.

The center has to show proof of funds and a construction estimate before they put a single shovel in the ground. Traditionally, many infrastructure projects are built with construction financing, where a loan is used to allow the construction to begin. That won’t be the case here.

Virgin says the center will be fully funded with an endowment and open debt free, with all the funds raised already having been pledged and “being paid out in a multi-year way.”

“And after all funds are raised, the plans have been approved, the permit is ready to be issued once we show those proof of funds and that building permit has been issued and we've got our contractor fully on board, that's when when shovels can go in the ground and that's when our lease commences," she added.

Wilkine Brutus is a reporter and producer for WLRN and a guest faculty member at the Poynter Institute. The South Florida native produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs.