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New performing arts center to be built as part of Bayfront redesign

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SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) - The Van Wezel Foundation now has permission to begin working on a new performing arts center after the Sarasota City Commission voted 3-2 Thursday to redevelop 53 acres along the Bayfront, which will be known as The Bay.

The Foundation will work with city staff to develop a memorandum of agreement to develop a new performing arts center as the centerpiece of the park project. The new performing arts center will include state-of-the-art, multi-purpose venues and an outdoor performance lawn designed to host professional entertainment and cultural events.

The current plan estimates the new performing arts center will cost $230-270 million.

"We are united with that vision and seek to do the same for future generations as we look forward and partner with The Bay to make our dreams a reality," said Mike Martella, Chairman of Van Wezel Foundation.

The Foundation has already been working with consultants for the past five years to study the feasibility of a new performing arts center, as well as developing preliminary operating plans. Now that they have permission to move forward, the Foundation will develop conceptual plans and will work with city leaders on the governance and operating model.

"This is a huge step for the cultural and educational future of our region," said Jim Travers, Chair of the Foundation's Strategic Planning Committee

Drayton Saunders and Julie Harris have been named co-chairs of the steering committee to initiate the philanthropic effort for private sector funding of the project.

"While this project represents a significant benefit to our city's economy and cultural offerings, we remain committed to raise funds through private partnerships and investments," Saunders said.

The City Commission voted Thursday 3-2 to approve the Bayfront's final master plan. The majority of the community members who spoke at Thursday night's meeting were on board with a new future for the Bayfront, but some urged the Commission to reconsider the future of the former G-Whiz Science Museum as they consider it to be historical.

"Please provide an amendment that, yes, you support the Bay project, but you must study how to re-purpose this building and how, financially. It would probably be no more expensive," said one resident.

As is, Phase 1 of the master plan does not include saving G-Whiz. In response to the concerns about this from the Vice Mayor, the Bayfront Planning Team pointed out that the building has been vacant without a productive use since 1998.

"It's a historical building of sorts, but it has a lot of issues and a lot of problems and ultimately it hasn't been included in the final product," said Commissioner Hagen Brody after the meeting. "And the final product is something that has been weighed in on by thousands, tens of thousands of residents."

Construction on Phase 1 will beging as early as next year.

The Bayfront Planning Organization said it expects to be able to raise most of the money to pay for this project through private donors. The city will need to pay for everything else that is left over.

For more information about the Bayfront Planning Organization's master plan, click here.

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