Major Arts Center in Boca back on track
By Marci Shatzman
Announcing their pick to design the “multi-million-dollar creative campus” in downtown Boca, the Center for Arts and Innovation is back on track after five years.
“We’ll update our budget (how much it will cost) in April 2024 for the first reveal,” Andrea Virgin, chair and CEO of the Center predicted after the announcement in Mizner Park Amphitheater before supporters, Boca philanthropists, and elected officials.
Antoine Chaaya flew in from Paris to represent selected architect Renzo Piano and Renzo Building Workshop, a firm with international credentials and major architectural awards. The firm expects to start design work in late October this year, with groundbreaking set for 2025, the city’s centennial year.
“We only choose three projects a year,” Chaaya told the crowd, citing the center’s cultural incentive, public access and “a beautiful site and …a new momentum for your city.”
The center will be built on a vacant field at the north end of Mizner Park, next to the Boca Raton Museum of Art and the outdoor amphitheater, as what Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer described as a cultural hub in Boca Raton, which doesn’t exist. The city’s major and longstanding performing arts companies, such as Boca Ballet Theatre and The Symphonia chamber orchestra perform in school auditoriums. Festival of the Arts BOCA performs in a temporarily covered Mizner Park Amphitheater.
The new center was initially envisioned with six adaptive performance event spaces — indoor and outdoor—ranging in seating capacity from 99 to 3,500 seats. They could be programmed as individual spaces or combined to host events for nearly 6,000 attendees, according to a center description.
Originally proposed in 2018, “community members have collectively contributed tens of millions of dollars in early operational and capital support,” according to the center.
Dick Schmidt, president of Schmidt Companies and a leading Boca philanthropist, is a founding supporter. He wasn’t initially on board with the center, “but I got persuaded,” he said afterward. “I saw what she (Virgin) was proposing was completely a turnaround for me.”
The city badly needs a fine arts district, said Mike Fraley, longtime member of the local cultural arts consortium, who is both director and conductor of the Youth Orchestra of Palm Beach County and the music teacher at Don Estridge High Tech Middle School.
In October 2022, the City of Boca Raton formally approved The Center’s mission, granting a 94-year ground lease at $1/year. “The pre-construction agreement is in place. The lease is pending, depending on funds raised for the center. By Oct. 23, 25% of the hard construction costs for the minimum construction threshold,” have to be in place, a city spokesperson said. “We’ll have a better understanding and update on what that will mean going forward,” the spokesperson added.