Orchestra stays quiet on plan to relocate

Editor & Publisher

After the Sarasota City Commission voted 4-1 last May against the Sarasota Orchestra’s plan to relocate to Payne Park, all has been quiet on the Orchestra’s front.

The counterpoint is that City staff and the Mayor have been busy attempting to find a way to meet the Orchestra’s desires and to ensure the arts organization remains in the City.


The Alpert initiative

Mayor Liz Alpert was the lone vote of support for the plan to allow the Orchestra to use seven acres of the 24-acre park.

The vote specifically included the motion for the city to remove Payne Park as a site for consideration. It was Commissioner Willie Shaw who stated that Payne Park would be “completely out of the conversation,” and that is the motion that was approved.

Nonetheless, less than a week later, Alpert on June 6 wrote a letter to the descendent, Kathleen Emerson Schumate, of the couple who gave the land to the City with the stipulation that it be used for outdoor recreation.

On June 6, Alpert wrote Schumate that the City owns two additional acres next to the park and that if utilized, the net impact to Payne Park would be approximately five acres. Alpert said the tennis courts could be relocated and it would create a “win/win” for everyone. Alpert said it would aid in the revitalization of the area and enhance the desirability of Payne Park.

Schumate wrote back three days later to Alpert and her fellow commissioners and she said that 9 out of 11 of the descendants of the park benefactors “believe in preserving green spaces.” Schumate elaborated that they believe the deed should be honored and that “choosing to override the deed would set a precedent for any future ‘needs’ of the City.”

Schumate also said that there had been a serious lack of attention given to the impact on traffic and environmental issues.

Schumate ended her letter in writing, “Should the City Commission choose to rescind their vote in order to put Payne Park back on the options list. Then we would go forth with a lawsuit for adjudication.”

Although the commission voted 4-1 to remove Payne Park for consideration, Alpert continued her advocacy and her initiative was soon joined by City Manager Tom Barwin.

In July, Barwin met with tennis players at Payne Park and asked if they would support the use of the adjacent city owned parcel, if it would reduce the amount of the park that would have to be utilized by the Orchestra. The idea presented by Barwin was not embraced by those at the meeting.


City of possibilities

On July 1, the City of Sarasota’s Office of Economic Development Manager Steven Stancel produced a nine-page memorandum outlining numerous City-owned sites that might be acceptable to the Orchestra.

Stancel said the Orchestra’s land request is reportedly seven acres, upon which they hope to build a 400-foot by 400-foot structure containing a 1,800 seat concert hall, a rehearsal performance hall, administrative offices and other public spaces.

After evaluating all city-owned parcels over 6.9 acres that are available, Stancel said there were numerous potential properties.


The Marian Anderson site

The 13.2-acre Marian Anderson parcel is located just East of U.S. 301 with an average of 45,500 vehicle trips per day. Although that site was eliminated from consideration by the orchestra due to “access issues,” Stancel said there is an opportunity to create frontage directly on U.S. 301 by repurposing one or move of 10 properties located between the site and the roadway.

Stancel wrote that “relocating the orchestra to the culturally rich historic Newtown core of the City would be in keeping with the growing emphasis on the economic value of historic tourism and the cultural arts.


North Trail

Another possibility is a 6.2-acre property located on North Tamiami Trail that is owned by both the county and city. The site is located within two blocks of the Ringling Museum, the Asolo Theatre and the Sarasota Ballet. The analysis pointed out the proximity to SRQ International Airport, University Parkway and U.S. 41.The memo said that multiple entities are expressing interest in the future use of this property including private developers, arts and cultural groups and adjacent property owners.


The Polish example

The City memo points out that in Katowice, Poland, the Polish National Symphony Orchestra constructed a concert hall of 1,800 seats, a practice hall of 300 seats, 400 rooms, including a chamber hall, rehearsing rooms, dressing rooms, recording studios, a canteen and a small hotel all on less land than Sarasota Orchestra says it needs. The reason is that the Polish Orchestra build a four-story building requiring less public land for its footprint.

This example from Poland was furnished in hopes that a site less than seven acres could accomplish all of the Orchestra’s needs.


301 and Laurel Street

Another possibility is at U.S. 301 and Laurel Street. The City owned parcels at that location are zoned downtown edge, which allows for five stories. Additionally, the site is located just north of several under-developed parcels, which may be used for land acquisition and use.


The Fairgrounds

Even Barwin had some exciting news that he shared with Orchestra President and CEO Joe McKenna last June.

Barwin told McKenna that he met with Sarasota Fairgrounds Director Rory Martin and that five prime acres located directly on Fruitville Road could serve as a potential site for cultural development.

“We both think it could be an ideal possibility for the Symphony Orchestra. I would like to discuss this with you and explore all creative possibilities with you, Rory, and other possible partners to come up with ways to come up with ways to address parking on the expansive Fairground site,” wrote Barwin.

Barwin added in his letter to McKenna that the access and visibility are already outstanding on the site and that the location would keep the orchestra close to its current home in the city and would avoid disruption.

“I would love to work with you to put a team together to make this a magical reality as the Fairgrounds prepares for its next evolution. Let me know,” wrote Barwin.

McKenna responded that he would pass the suggestion along to the Orchestra’s Facility Task Force and that he would follow up after they met.


Future influx

The desire to move from the Orchestra’s current site at the Bayfront next to the Van Wezel emanates from the organization’s desire to not be part of the future redevelopment of the 53 acres referred to as “The Bay” project.

The project originally included the Orchestra, the Van Wezel and a myriad of other uses including open and recreation space. The Orchestra said its long-range plan is to avoid the threat of sea level rise and to consolidate its operation into one large complex. The Orchestra has not formally responded to any of the City options and the City Commission expressed in August a desire for Barwin to continue the initiative in helping to find a site within the city.

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