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Town Center Green is Longboat’s next chapter, but there’s more to come

A white pavilion with a sign on top that says "Karon Family Pavilion."
Eric Garwood
Community News Collaborative
The Karon Family Pavilion is the centerpiece of Longboat Key’s Town Center Green.

A library project moves ahead with outreach plans this winter and an estimated opening in 2026.

When residents of Longboat Key celebrate Veterans Day in their new Town Center Green, they’ll do more than just thank the men and women who served in uniform.

They’ll also formally open the Karon Family Pavilion as the space’s centerpiece, they’ll hear music from the Sarasota Symphony Orchestra, and they’ll likely hear about more events coming this season to the park-like venue adjacent to Town Hall and the town’s biggest retail center.

But don’t be surprised if a few folks occasionally glance over their shoulders toward open space on the edge of the property, imagining what might come next in Phase 3: a public library, the county’s first since 2018 and the first on a barrier island.

Perhaps as soon as 2026.

First things first, though.

At 3 p.m., Nov. 11, Longboat will dedicate Phase 2 of its Town Center Green project and the pavilion, which was built with a combination of public and private funds. Paul and Sarah Karon and other donors contributed about $800,000 to the pavilion, with the town paying about $1.5 million for the work converting the open space into a usable event site.

Among the events planned beyond Nov. 11, a series of markets and possibly a concert series.

Phase 3 of the Town Center Green project, though, is the most ambitious. It focuses on a county-built and -run public library, likely with privately funded additional features. That timeline began in 2022 when County Commissioners added $1 million to their budget for Longboat library development costs.

The timeline continues this winter, said Renee DiPilato, the director of the county’s Libraries and Historical Resources. Public outreach, beginning in January, will inform designers and builders about what kind of structure makes sense to satisfy town needs.

From there, public-private cost estimates can be formulated, perhaps next summer. Town Manager Howard Tipton said while the county has agreed to build a library and run it, other features – such as adult-learning classrooms or a large, multi-purpose room – would be the town’s financial responsibility.

A tree in a green space with a white pavilion in the background.
Eric Garwood
Community News Collaborative
Planners of Longboat Key’s Town Center Green left room on the edge of the space for a planned public library.

Venice’s public library, opened five years ago, was similarly built with private donations and public funds.

“Additional space that the town may ask for would be space we would have to fund one way or the other,’’ Tipton said. “The idea is that we will get those cost estimates, and the initial conceptual designs and be able to go to the community and see how we can fund that. And so that’s what we will be doing this time next year or maybe a little earlier.’’

The county library system in 2019 installed a digital kiosk in Town Hall, enabling library users to access the system, reserve books, download e-books and perform other tasks. But until a physical library is built, the nearest one is 8.3 miles from Town Hall – Selby Library on First Street in Downtown Sarasota. A volunteer run library operates in town, but would be absorbed by the county-run project. For Manatee residents of Longboat, two county public libraries operate on Anna Maria Island.

“By no means was this the only library service we wanted to provide on Longboat Key,’’ DiPilato. “It really was a first step.”

The next step, she said, begins in November.

The county’s mobile pop-up library will begin making regular stops in Longboat Key – on the first and third Thursdays of each month – beginning in November. She said the van is equipped with up to seven carts of books, which are curated based on the demographics of the van’s destination. The van was funded by the Library Foundation of Sarasota County and $50,000 from the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation.

“The pop up is fantastic, it provides access to collections, technology, programs, our wonderful staff and until a new library facility is built, this is a great way to get access to the library out to the community,’’ DiPilato said.

Beyond the county’s financial commitment to build a library, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis said County Commissioners have thought of what comes next and accounted for between $800,000 and $1 million annually in estimated operating expenses.

“Yes, the capital is in the long-range plan but so is the ability to actually run the library, which I think is the more significant of the two,’ he said.

Longboat Key Vice Mayor Mike Haycock said he looked forward to hearing what residents had to say about potential features they’d like to see in the town’s first public library.

“We’re tickled to death you made that commitment to us,’’ he said.

Eric Garwood is the executive editor of the Community News Collaborative. Reach him at ericgarwood@cncfl.org.