Mayor Alpert pushes for Sarasota Orchestra resolution

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City of Sarasota Mayor Liz Alpert urged fellow commissioners at a recent meeting to codify their commitment to Sarasota Orchestra to help find a home within the city.

Alpert said she had recently met with Orchestra President and CEO Joseph McKenna along with City Manager Tom Barwin in an effort to help resolve the dilemma of finding a new home for the organization.

Last Spring, Alpert was the lone commissioner who voted against fellow commissioners who turned down the Orchestra’s plan to build a new Performing Arts Hall in Payne Park.

Commissioner Willie Shaw specifically made his motion to take Payne Park “off the table” as a potential site. Nonetheless, Alpert last summer spoke with Payne Park tennis players and other community members about how they would feel if an Orchestra plan used less acreage of the park and incorporated other city-owned property.

That idea was not embraced.

The commission late last month agreed with some hesitation, to instruct City Attorney Robert Fournier to draft a resolution that would be voted on and spell out the commission’s desire to keep the Orchestra within the City.

Three of the five commissioners said they do not want to be obligated to take action to accommodate the Orchestra’s desire to relocate from its existing home next to the Van Wezel on the Sarasota Bayfront.

The Orchestra and its Board of Directors feel that because of sea level rise and to consolidate its operations it is desirable to find a new location and not be part of the project called “The Bay” that is redeveloping the 53 acres that surround the Van Wezel.

Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie said that a resolution may walk a fine legal line, but Alpert attempted to assuage her concerns.

The Orchestra has been in the City for 70 years and City staff has presented several sites, none of which have been met with approval by the Orchestra as potential parcels for relocation.

The commission debated at length whether it would be more appropriate to send a letter of support communicating its desire to keep the Orchestra in the City rather than a resolution.

Alpert and Barwin both pushed for a resolution, which Alpert said conveys a stronger message. Eventually, consensus was reached after two votes to bring back a draft resolution for consideration.

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