Sarasota Orchestra eyes Payne Park for new home

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The Sarasota Orchestra, a main attraction of the area’s cultural scene, hopes to build a new performance hall and associated facilities at Payne Park in Downtown Sarasota.

Currently, the orchestra performs Masterworks concerts at the city-owned Van Wezel and is headquartered in the Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center nearby. In a proposal to the Sarasota City Commission last week, Orchestra President and CEO Joseph McKenna expressed the vision for the new center and why Payne Park makes sense for its future.

In short, the proposal according to the Orchestra will elevate “The artistic profile, help enable other performing arts organizations to expand offerings and to increase our region’s economic, social and educational vitality,” McKenna said.

The orchestra has for years, if not for more than a decade, been clear to the community and its supporters that it needed a new home.

Currently, the orchestra has been constrained by a lack of availability and capacity to expand it’s artistic offerings. The organization says that the six venues in the region that the orchestra utilizes throughout the season present acoustical inadequacies limiting the orchestra’s full range of artistic expression. There is also a lack of available space to expand existing youth programs.


Why Payne Park?

Last year, the orchestra announced it did not want to be part of the plan to redevelop the 52 acres surrounding the Van Wezel officially refereed to as “The Bay” project. The organization said there is an urgency in its need for dedicated space and that other concerns include projected sea level rise, traffic and parking challenges.

The Payne Park site is situated just south of the Sarasota Police Department and is currently home to the popular Payne Park Tennis Center.

The proposed new concert hall calls for the demolition of the Tennis Center and its reconstruction in another part of the park. The existing playground, skateboard park and café, would not be impacted and are spared in the plan. It is proposed that the rebuilt tennis facility would be constructed immediately to the south of the Symphony complex. That Tennis Center, according to the proposal. would be built anew before the existing tennis center is demolished.

The preliminary scope of the new concert hall and orchestra complex includes an 1,800-seat concert hall and 700-seat recital hall. Rehearsal spaces as well as an educational wing is also anticipated.

Payne Park was created by the City on the grounds of a former baseball field and trailer park that was leveled more than a decade ago. The Orchestra proposes using seven acres of the 39-acre park. In addition, the proposal is for the orchestra to be allowed to utilize the Sarasota County Parking Garage located at Ringling Boulevard and East Avenue. The concept plan also shows 200 new parking spaces to also serve the orchestra operation.

The use of the parking garage would necessitate a long-term agreement with the County.

The City Commission showed support for the idea at the meeting last week, and was especially excited that the Orchestra plans to stay inside the city limits.

Commissioner Hagen Brody stressed that it was important the organization rebuild the tennis facility to a level that exceeds what exists.

The Orchestra held a public meeting on March 1 to discuss the project with the community and will schedule additional neighborhood meetings in the coming weeks. The Orchestra hopes that the City Commission will vote on its proposal as soon as March 18.

There was discussion at the meeting, led by Ahearn-Koch on whether the deed that created and underlies Payne Park dictates that it remain an active or passive recreational space in the community.

City Attorney Robert Fournier said he believed that the vision could fit in without any restriction on the property.

According to McKenna, the terms for usage of the Payne Park property as well as the parking garage need to be finalized before active fundraising for the plan can begin.


Meeting on plan March 12

Orchestra Community Meeting: March 12   With a vision for the future, the Sarasota Orchestra will hold a community engagement meeting Tuesday, March 12 to discuss its proposed plan to relocate to a portion of Payne Park.

WHEN:  Tues., March 12   6-8 p.m.

WHERE:  City Hall, Commission Chambers – 1565 First Street

The meeting is open to the public.

More information on the proposal can be found atwww.SarasotaOrchestra.org/Facility

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