Purple Ribbon Committee tours Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall

Published: Sep. 27, 2023 at 10:46 PM EDT
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - The Purple Ribbon Committee toured the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall for the first time on Sept. 27. The committee is in charge of providing a recommendation to the Sarasota City Commissioners on what should happen to the building.

The group, including members of the public, walked through the building looking at the stage, dressing rooms and more. The chair of the committee, Lee-En Chung, explained this was not a regular tour.

“It was more of existing conditions, architecturally, structurally, more of the behind the scenes of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center,” said Chung.

Chung said the tour was a vital part of the committee’s job.

“The due diligence that our committee is tasked with is to basically explore what is existing, what improvements may be needed,” said Chung.

The Executive Director of the Van Wezel, Mary Bensel, said one of the problems they would come across is limited space.

“It gets very crowded as the folks behind me will show you,” said Bensel.

Bensel said that reason keeps larger productions and shows from coming to the performing arts which is why there is a need for a bigger one.

“This will be the best thing for this community. This is a community of the arts. When you think about the fact, we have our own ballet company who is world renowned, we have an opera company with their own opera house,” said Bensel.

Bensel said many members of the community do not want to see the building go. Instead, she said, they are offering ways of how it could better serve the area in the future.

“An educational facility for the entire arts community. Someone suggested, you know, when the Hyatt goes down that this would be a fabulous place to do all sorts of community meetings. Have this be a wonderful ballroom on the bayfront,” said Bensel.

Chung explained the best thing for the committee is input from the public. She said they have two upcoming meetings on Nov. 8 and 29 that are open to the public. Those meetings will take place at City Hall.