City clears Sarasota Orchestra renovations to tune of $450,000

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SARASOTA - City leaders gave the green light for nearly half a million dollars in renovations to the Sarasota Orchestra's building after the orchestra produced a letter of credit that absolves the city of any liability from the project.

The city owns the land on which the orchestra's building sits. Under state law, the orchestra's lease with the city requires any building renovation costing more than $200,000 to use a general contractor who posts a bond. The bond would insure that subcontractors got paid if the general contractor failed to finish the project. It would also shield the city.

Renovation costs to the Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center on Van Wezel Way will total about $450,000. "Many of them are routine things," said Joseph McKenna, the Orchestra's CEO. Carpets need replacement, walls need repainting, and the 30-year-old air condition system needs refurbishing. The orchestra put off it usual annual maintenance when the economic downturn between 2008-2010 squeezed its budget. "We have directed our resources to providing programs and preserving jobs," McKenna said. The orchestra wants to complete the work before its next season begins in September.

In discussions with the city, the orchestra broke its project down into smaller parts, all less than the $200,000 threshold for needing a bond, but City Attorney Robert Fournier believed that circumvented the lease requirement under state law. He also warned City Commissioners who met in a special session Wednesday morning that granting a waiver to the orchestra could set a precedent with negative consequences, concerned that "all the city's tenants get treated alike," Fournier told commissioners.

But McKenna produced what Fournier called "a pleasant surprise," a letter of credit in lieu of a bond covering the entire cost of the project. With that, Fournier told commissioners they could OK the project and still adhere to state law. They voted 4-0 in favor, with Suzanne Atwell absent.

"It appears the symphony now is plenty covered, with belts and suspenders and all the performance bonds in place for the majority of the work," said City Manager Tom Barwin, "and the letters of credit for the balance of the work."

The vote pleased, and relieved McKenna. "We anticipate our season will start on time and everything will be completed as planned," he said.