WBTT 'Raises Roof' at Cultural Complex



The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe on Monday took a major step toward opening a sizable campus in north Sarasota that could put it on par with other major cultural organizations in the region. At the “Raise The Roof” groundbreaking ceremony, the group officially launched the first phase of construction on the Binz building, which in six months should provide an on-site administrative office and box office facilities for the theater. “It steps the company up a professional level as an equity theater,” says Julie Leach, executive director for the troupe. 

The Binz building will house education rooms and an indoor event space that can host 200 dining guests for theater or private functions. The structure also allows administrative staff, now housed in space downtown, to move to the complex at 10th Street and Orange Avenue. Leach also notes that the flat-top structure will be able to host open-air events on the roof, where shade structures will be installed.

The new renovation of this expansion was made possible thanks to $3.9 million raised through the Troupe’s Heart & Soul fundraising campaign. The ongoing effort seeks to raise $6 million to help transform the 2.5-acre campus into a state-of-the-art cultural center.

Leach notes that marks a huge turnaround for the troupe, which a decade ago had no home. But in a way, hard economic times in the area helped put the organization in the posture it enjoys today. The troupe moved into its complex several years ago right before the building went into foreclosure, and the theater company at that point had the ability to buy the structure outright. Having a permanent home made the troupe’s shows suddenly easy for patrons to find. Now, the company plans to install more seating and soon improve dressing rooms and other facilities. 

“Owning our own home is just a huge benefit,” Leach says. “When we bring administrative offices so we can all live on one campus, it will create so much synergy and the ability to accomplish our mission that much more efficiently.”

The change also could allow an expansion of education efforts. The group now hosts a summer youth program for students ages 13-18, with enrollment capped at 23 spots. The growing classroom space will allow a wider age range and greater number of pupils to participate. “We have some opportunities to do more with the schools,” Leach says, noting the troupe already sends performers into classrooms to teach about the Harlem Renaissance, and also has a program that teaches 4th-graders in the area about Newtown history.

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