Theatre troupe purchases historic Sarasota building

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SARASOTA - A historic Sarasota building will be reborn into the glamorous world of show business. The West Coast Black Theatre Troupe just bought the old Binz building at the corner of Orange Avenue and 10th Way.

The building was built in 1926. "It was used primarily for storage of furniture, clothing, and other household goods. And its proximity to the Atlantic Coastline Railroad was excellent because people from the north could ship things down here and order things to be shipped out," says Larry Kelleher with Sarasota County Historical Resources.

It was built by Frank Binz, Sr., who moved to Sarasota from Chicago, where he already had a successful storage business. His customers were wealthy snowbirds wintering in Sarasota who brought along their finery and treasures, and needed a place to store them. "They had fur storage and things like that. I don't know why you'd need so many furs here with the weather…but I guess the fashion."

The building was in foreclosure, with an asking price over $700,000. The theatre troupe got it for $450,000. "We bought it for a lot less than it appraised for. We were fortunate that no one else was bidding and we were the highest bidder," says troupe CEO Christine Jennings.

The 2-acre site includes both the Binz building and the adjoining warehouse behind it, where the troupe currently performs.

Troupe founder Nate Jacobs is ecstatic. "Owner of the Binz building…who would have thought? It's a wonderful feeling…it's a dream come true. It's something I've prayed for for the 14 year history of company, and it finally walked through the door.”

Jennings says owning the building assures the troupe’s future. "No art organization can really rest comfortably and secure without having their home, because you're at someone's beck and call. They can raise rent, they can ask you to leave, and then you're homeless."

The two-story building has great possibilities. "We're able now to establish a real costume shop, a set construction shop -- we've never had those things -- to establish the production world, and eventually hopefully bring our administrative side over here as well," says Jacobs.

And hopefully start an education program. "Finally their future is set in stone. As I was telling some of the artists, one day you're going to be watching your children perform here," says Jennings.

And the shows will continue in the adjoining building where they have been for 3 and a half years. Currently, It Ain't Nothing but the Blues is playing, through May 17th.