The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe will be nomads no more. The 14-year-old company now has a permanent home.
With the help of a loan and some individual donors, the troupe was the only bidder in a foreclosure auction for the warehouse where it has performed for the last three years and an adjacent building on Orange Avenue near 10th Street, just north of downtown Sarasota.
The troupe, founded by Nate Jacobs in 1999, has spent most of its existing bouncing from one performance space to another, even creating a theater in the galleries of ArtCenter Sarasota for a couple of seasons.
Executive Director Christine Jennings said the theater paid $450,000 for the two-acre site at the auction on March 26.
“The most important thing about this is that it shows the Troupe that the community values them and appreciates them and wants them to have a permanent home,” Jennings said.
The purchase includes two buildings. The troupe has created a theater space in a 15,000 square foot warehouse “and we’re only using about a third of that building.” It also includes a separate structure known as the Binz Building, which had long housed storage units.
The property had been owned by Maple Tree Investments, a Sarasota company managed by James L. Robison, according to records.
Jennings said board and community leaders are currently discussing the possibilities for the two buildings, but immediate plans will focus on improvements to the existing theater space.
The troupe is expected to launch a capital campaign in the fall to raise money for improvements to both buildings, creation of an education program and to start an endowment.
“We’ve been quietly raising some money and people we’ve been talking to have been incredibly generous,” said Jennings, who received a $50,000 check moments before giving a welcoming speech at a fund-raising luncheon a week ago.
The amount of the campaign has not been determined. “We first wanted to make sure we could get the building and now we have to determine exactly what we need and want to do, and how best to use them.”
She said both buildings need “a tremendous amount of work. The parking lot needs better lighting and new pavement. The whole site needs work, but we believe we’ll be able to get grants for hopefully the majority of what needs to be done.”
Jennings said the troupe’s expansion and continued presence could be helpful for attracting interest in the area, about a half mile north of the downtown core.
“I think it truly does something for the neighborhood, especially when we unveil what we want to do there. For the troupe, this is really a superb location.”
You can read more about the historic Binz Building here.