Sarasota Orchestra expanding search for new site outside of city limits

What's next for the Sarasota Orchestra?

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Just over a week after being denied the opportunity to build a new venue at Payne Park in the City of Sarasota, the Sarasota Orchestra announced their search for a new home will be expanding outside of city limits.

David Steves, Chair of the 18-member Board of Directors for the orchestra, announced the unanimous decision to expand the search area for a potential site on Thursday.

In a statement, the orchestra says, “Pressing calendar constraints and acoustic limitations at the six venues used by Sarasota Orchestra currently hinder growth and future achievement of Sarasota Orchestra’s mission. The Orchestra also has urgent need for space expansion for its education programs which include eight levels of youth orchestra and Young Persons Concerts serving tens of thousands of students.”

The Sarasota Orchestra spent two years studying multiple sites in the city and decided on Payne Park. At the time, Joseph McKenna, President and CEO of the Sarasota Orchestra, said, “Our goal was to not be disruptive to the existing park. All of the green space, in terms of the children’s play area and the walking tract and all the green area, remains in tact. We do require the movement of tennis. But the goal is to upgrade those facilities so that the 12 tennis courts would get rebuilt on site to make room for where the music center would land.”

The proposed building would have taken up seven acres and include a 1,800 seat concert hall and a 700 seat recital hall. The proposal included relocating the existing tennis courts to behind the orchestra’s building and rebuilding them on wetlands.

A coalition formed and gathered more than 1,700 signatures against building the orchestra a new home in Payne Park, ultimately convincing the City Commission to scrap the plan.

Now the orchestra is looking for a home outside of the city, much to the dismay of Mayor Liz Alpert, who was the only commissioner to vote to allow the orchestra to build a new venue in Payne Park. She’s hoping to find a resolution.

“If the orchestra ultimately chooses to leave its current facility at the Bayfront, we will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to continue this strong, longstanding and productive relationship. City Manager Tom Barwin and his staff will be collaborating closely with the orchestra to advance our collective futures in hopes of coming up with even better options within the city limits than have already been considered," Mayor Alpert said.

But that may not be possible. The orchestra currently rents space at six different venues, including the Van Wezel, and says it has a timeline of moving into a permanent location within five years.

Steves said, "We feel a keen sense of urgency from both artistic and business perspectives. To benefit the community we serve, we intend to move into a music center well before the projected timeline of 10 to 20 years for the Bayfront buildout, and avoid the risks associated with building a major, 100 year facility right on the waterfront.”

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