Sarasota Orchestra’s Payne Park plan up for approval in City Hall

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The plan for Sarasota Orchestra to build a new home at the current site of Payne Park Tennis Center could be moving ahead as soon as May 20 at the next Sarasota City Commission meeting.

City staff is recommending approval of the Orchestra’s vision to build a 1,800 seat concert hall, 700-seat recital hall and educational wing on seven acres of the 39-acre Payne Park.

To accomplish this goal, the Orchestra needs approval from the City Commission as well as a determination by the City that allowing the Orchestra development will not conflict with existing deed restrictions on the property.

The issue of deed restriction was addressed in an opinion letter by City Attorney Robert Fournier that is part of the agenda packet. In his opinion, Fournier writes that the deed restriction appears to him to be viewed “expansively” so as to include a wider range of uses as opposed to a narrow interpretation.

The Payne Park property was acquired at a discount and in part as a gift with the restriction in the deed as follows: “This deed is given, subject to the restriction that the tract hereinbefore described shall be used for park, playground and kindred uses and for no other use or purpose.”

Residents opposed to the development of the park and the relocation of the tennis facility cited the deed restriction as a fundamental obstacle by arguing that “kindred uses” would not include an entertainment hall and concert facility.

Scores of residents argued that point two months ago when the Orchestra first presented publicly its plan to the City Commission.

The Orchestra said it will build a new tennis center on another portion of Payne Park.

Fournier in his memorandum that became public last week said there was no case law specifically on point relative to kindred uses, but that parks often have scopes of uses that include monuments, performance centers and other entertainment facilities. He made a legal connection between recreation, entertainment and amusement and said there was no written law he could find that would preclude a concert hall from being a kindred use.

In conclusion, Fournier wrote that those who do not favor the proposed relocation of Sarasota Orchestra to Payne Park and oppose the loss of green space or open parkland “will likely be unhappy with this memorandum.” He went on to write that he was not advocating nor against the relocation, but simply saying that in his view Florida courts have generally interpreted deed restrictions on parks expansively rather than narrowly.

“This supports a conclusion that it may be possible to make a successful legal argument that an entertainment venue such as the Sarasota Orchestra is a permissible use within Payne Park,” wrote Fournier.

The Orchestra would need to be on the right side of that legal opinion if a group or individual challenges this interpretation. The Orchestra has cited sea level rise, the urgent need for a new hall, and the long-stage pace of the Bayfront Development all as reasons why it needs to move quickly to secure a location for its future.

Additionally, the Orchestra has suffered from an acoustical point of view when it comes to its current location.

The proposal is also contingent on the Orchestra gaining approval from Sarasota County to use a parking garage that is currently located north of the existing tennis center. The commission meeting will be held at City Hall at 1565 First Street, Sarasota on May 20.

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