SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) - The West Coast Black Theatre Troupe has now completed their 5 million dollar restoration of the historic Benz building, built back in the 1920's.
It will open on March 22nd, and house the theatre's Education and Administration offices. It is right next to the Troupe's Theatre. The two buildings will be joined by a courtyard. West Coast Black Theatre founder and Artistic Director, Nate Jacobs says, it lifts the Troupe to new heights.
"It's like seeing a miracle before our eyes. One of the the things I'm so amazed by, when I walk on our campus, is what a community can do to make something good happen, when they work together."
For Nate and the West Coast Black Theatre Troupe, it's been a long journey over a short distance.
Nate continues, "One of the actors told me, just 4 streets up on Coconut Avenue is where we started putting together shows in your living room in your one bedroom apartment, almost 20 years ago."
They've come a long way since then. The entry way to the new complex is thru the courtyard that joins the two buildings. Julie Leach, Executive Director of WBTT says, "You come up a grand staircase, there is going to be a fountain presented to the Theatre from donors, you can hang out and have some cocktails before the show and during intermission."
The first floor of the newly renovated building will be three education classrooms with dividing walls, and at the end of the hall, a fine arts class room. This will be called the "Nate Jacobs Wing". Leach says, "It is a very flexible space, and at night it can be used for a catered dinner for 200 people, then they can go in and enjoy the theatre."
The box office and administration offices will be on the second floor of this building. Also on the second floor, the door to the huge walk- in safe that stood in the historic building.
The Architect, Alan Anderson, owner of C. Alan Architects, says moving the 90 something year old door wasn't easy. But they want to preserve as much of the old building as possible. They took the bricks out of the wall inside the safe and used them in the building.
Julie Leach says, "We have a roof top terrace on this building which is a whole other entertaining space, where you can see the fireworks or the sun sets."
And renovations will soon start on the theater.
Nate says, "That is going to be a 5 star theatre space. We will actually have real theatrical seating accommodations that will make that building more comfortable for our patrons, a much larger lobby, and larger restrooms."
There will also be an additional training facility in this building called the "Howard Millman Studio". It will have a stage the same size of our main stage so a show can be going on on stage, while a different show is rehearsing and getting ready in the Howard Millman studio.
Alan Anderson says,"The design of the Theatre will maintain it's quaintness. That's one of the things we've been careful to preserve."
Nate says, "I have a lot of people in black community say to me, "We are so proud when we pass by that space, that a man of color is involved in this project. It makes the whole community proud."
WBTT still needs a million dollars to compete the theatre part of their project. And for the right donation you can still have the historic Benz building named after you.