Friday, May 26, 2023

The Fantastic Four: Andrea Virgin, The Arts Warrior

Meet a few people who are reshaping Boca, from business to government to academics and the arts

IT’S A NEW DAY IN BOCA RATON. The city may still bask in the reflected light of its resort status, but its bold trajectory toward the future is a mix of innovators and visionaries, educatorsand entrepreneurs, people who believe in possibility—and don’t take no for an answer. Meet a few of them.

Andrea Virgin is no stranger to the stage—but this time she’s advocating for it, rather than performing on it.

Virgin is president of the Boca Raton Center for Arts and Innovation, the group behind the building of a performing arts center at the north end of Mizner Park. The center is an ambitious project, which Virgin estimates will cost between $100 million and $110 million to build, and will include an innovative facility design that has seven different spaces for both indoor and outdoor performances and events (including the existing amphitheater—reimagined), a six-story parking garage and more. It will also provide a home for local arts organizations and will be the capstone of Mizner Park’s original mission to provide a cultural arts center in the heart of Boca Raton.

Virgin, 36, who grew up in Boca Raton, was a former ballet dancer with the Houston City Ballet HB2 company and Ballet Florida before she became a civil engineer and launched her own design firm, Virgin Design. She became a proponent of the center while she was sitting on the board of the Boca Ballet Theatre—following what she calls a turning point in her personal life.

It was November, 2015 when her young husband, TJ Virgin, left on a routine real estate scouting trip through the Midwest with other members of Pebb Enterprises. Before the last stop in Akron, Ohio, the plane crashed, killing everyone on board, leaving Virgin a widow with a four-month old daughter.

“It was very tragic,” she says. “That was an inflection point in my life where a lot of things started to come into better perspective. I was working for a great firm at the time, but I was a little bit of a slave to the job. I had just had the baby, and realizing how life could turn in just an instant, I decided I really needed to focus on what I wanted out of life, what was going to be the path for me and my daughter. … I was now a single mom trying to figure out how to balance work and life. So I started my own firm and found some flexibility to include some community involvement. That’s when I decided to join the board at Boca Ballet Theatre—and that is what spawned the center.”

On the Boca Ballet Theatre boardroom wall was a master plan for an arts complex that was spearheaded years ago by Dan Guin, its longtime artistic/executive director.

“I was the first alum to join the board—I wanted to give back to this program that had given me so much,” Virgin says. “Boca had grown so much since I was a student there. I figured I could leverage my relationships, my network in the commercial real estate world I had been working in for so long. With my passion for the performing arts and for the city, [I thought] we should take that master plan off the wall and actually make it happen.”

Today, the center is well on its way to becoming real. After four years of pro bono work by engineers and attorneys and planners and architects, plans are drawn, donors have been contacted, presentations have been made and the group is now awaiting a ground lease from the city—expected this fall—which will mark the starting block for serious fundraising. A founders’ circle of 25 people has been formed, seed money of $2 million is in place for initial development costs, and some hefty donations are already coming in. Virgin anticipates the center opening by the end of 2026 or early 2027, with the amphitheater “turned around by the Boca centennial year of 2025.”

Virgin has since remarried and has a second child; she sees the center as a way to complete the work initiated so many years ago by the late Charlie Siemon and Wendy Larsen, major proponents of Mizner Park at its onset, and who envisioned it always as a cultural arts center.

“You always have a lesson that you leave a place better than you found it. … One missing piece of the puzzle for this to be the true world-class city that we all believe it to be is cultural infrastructure, which is so lacking here. I would love to do whatever I can to fill that piece, because it is something I am passionate about. … Charlie and Wendy were such pioneers to make sure Mizner Park was a pillar for the arts in Boca Raton. It’s incumbent on the next generation to do what they can to carry that legacy and honor their work and try to bring it full circle.”

This story is from the November/December 2021 issue of Boca magazine. For more like this, click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Marie Speed
Marie Speed
Marie Speed is group editor of all JES publications, including Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Worth Avenue, Mizner’s Dream and the annual publication for the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce. She also oversees editorial operations of the company’s Salt Lake City magazines. Her community involvement has ranged from work with the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce to a longtime board member position at Caridad Center. She is also on the George Snow Scholarship Fund review committee. She is a past officer of the Florida Magazine Association and a member of Class XVII of Leadership Florida. In her spare time, Marie enjoys South Florida’s natural world through hiking and kayaking, and she is an avid reader and an enthusiastic cook.

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