Symphony Draws To A Close

Under The Hood


The final gong just sounded on the Sarasota Orchestra’s time in the city. And while administration appears to want an encore, it appears this symphony will transition into a new movement soon.

“It has become apparent to us that none of the available sites in the City meet our Four Critical Success Factors due to prohibitively long timelines, inadequate acreage, lack of parking or other factors,” Joe McKenna, Sarasota Orchestra president and CEO, wrote to city leaders this week. “The current site options that meet our criteria lie within the County.”

The referenced Factors include timeliness, artistic and educational integrity, philanthropic considerations, and business and economic vitality. While interpretations may differ, it’s not hard to hear in these words another factor, namely fear.

Whatever reasoning existed behind the Sarasota City Commission’s May decision to reject a concert hall plan, the consequence had to ring clear to Orchestra leaders. A plan to move from the Bayfront to Payne Park, which had been discussed with city management and supported by staff, was still doomed for failure. It’s not hard to conclude that even if city administration seems on board and there’s every indication a plan for a new venue will have government’s blessing, a few phone calls to City Commissioners will deliver deadly discord to any vision.

Of course, development fights are nothing new. Not to Sarasota. Not anywhere. All-or-nothing cycles in growth in Florida have left a history of sprawl and poor planning that leaves many citizens fearful their place in paradise can always get paved over. Honestly, the prospect of losing a chunk of a major public park to a permanent venue, no matter how gorgeous or culturally vital, was bound to bring some hysteria.

But one hopes with any elected board there’s the willingness to see beyond the angry mob in the room and the will to plow through the rancor for the sake of a better future.

And of late, it’s not those wicked and greedy developers getting cast as the most frequent villains in Sarasota’s NIMBY dramas. It’s institutions with decades worth of good will built up in the community, none of which seems worth a matinee ticket’s cost should a half dozen people concurrently realize a bold plan may mean their weekend tennis match has to relocate.

I hate recycling a point made so well recently with the dismissal of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens master plan, but Sarasota’s historic culture depends as much on ensuring its future as preserving its past. But the departure of the Orchestra so readily makes that point it’s hard not to revisit the problem. The most recent development shows that decades-old institutions no longer see a place for themselves in the city proper, and believe they can have brighter futures moving to unincorporated areas.

I don’t know how much political calculus occurs in Orchestra board meetings. But considering the differing level of voter impact for a small neighborhood in a city of less than 60,000 and a county of 420,000, I can assure you it’s much harder to threaten a commissioner at a county dais when it comes to a six-block voter revolt.

The City’s not ready to let go of the Orchestra. The Commission this month called for a workshop to explore options, and City Manager Tom Barwin wrote in a letter to McKenna this indicated a “desire to understand, be helpful and participate.”

But similar overtures since May haven't moved the Orchestra before. It may be time to call fine on this arrangement. Efforts would be better spend salvaging Sarasota’s reputation for welcoming the next institution than undoing this rejection.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor to SRQ Media.


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