Is Sarasota's Cultural Center Shifting Outside City?

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The Players Theatre will soon move its main venue to Lakewood Ranch. Mote plans to build a new aquarium at Nathan Benderson Park. Festivals like the Sarasota Chalk Festival and Thunder by the Bay have moved out of Downtown Sarasota. With the Sarasota Orchestra announcing it will open its search beyond the city limits, some started to question if the community’s cultural center will move from its long home within the city.

But some of the region’s cultural institution’s say it’s more complicated than that. Jeffery Kin, artistic director for the Players, says the changes taking place downtown have more to do with the region changing and cultural organizations’ needs evolving. “Our thought is we are not leaving the community, just allowing the organization to grow,” Kin says. “We had to go where there’s more space.”

Kin says the Players looked at eight sites before deciding on a new locale for The Players Centre for Performing Arts on Fruitville Road near Interstate-75. That’s well outside Sarasota, but he notes it remains within the county. “No arts leader will look at you and say they are doing something despite what the people want,” he says. “What we all want to do is leave an organization in a better place that we found it.”

Similarly, Mote Marine Laboratory looked at sites throughout the region before ultimately deciding to build its Science Education Aquarium near Interstate-75. City Commissioner Jennifer Ahearn-Koch notes Mote will continue to keep its research facilities on City Island even after the new aquarium opens. “Mote is still going to be located in the city,” she says, “and we’ve all been talking about how we can help the symphony continue to look in the city, so I just don’t think that applies.”

She was among commissioners to reject a plan for the Orchestra to build a new facility and relocate to Payne Park. She’s optimistic things will work out.

When events become massively popular, Ahearn-Koch says, that will sometimes lead to a change in venue, especially if events require streets to be blocked to accommodate growing crowds.

But the elected official suggests Sarasota boasts such a tremendous cultural history that new events will spring anew. Meanwhile, lovers of Sarasota’s cultural treasures will ensure institutions continue to thrive in town. “We just have so many nonprofits and wonderful philanthropic arts and music organizations,” she says.

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