Orchestra Turns Attention Beyond City Limits

Todays News

Rendering of one-time plan for permance hall in Payne Park.

After two years of candid back and forth between the Sarasota Orchestra and the City of Sarasota, it now looks all but certain the cultural institution will relocate outside the city limits. In a lengthy statement released by Orchestra President and CEO Joseph McKenna, he said the organization will focus on sites outside the city for a new performance hall.

The decision closes more than two years of controversy that started when the Orchestra expressed interest in building a new hall at Payne Park, drawing pushback from the community and ultimately the Sarasota City Commission.

“Our detailed, multi-year planning work identified the need for seven acres,” McKenna’s statement explains. “This has been our plan throughout our process, and we are committed to bringing it to reality, even though it will not reside in Payne Park. We have not ruled out options within the city limits, but at this time there appear to be no viable options. Since Payne Park is not an option, and other locations we reviewed with City Officials have all been ruled out, we are currently concentrating on opportunities in Sarasota County.”

A joint statement from Mayor Hagen Brody and city Manager Marlon Brown expressed some resignation at the choice, underlined in frustration no locale beyond Payne Park had met the Orchestra’s criteria.

“Of the city locations previously offered and considered, including its current location on the Bayfront and in or around Payne Park, the Sarasota Orchestra is clearly not open to those locations and desires to look elsewhere,” the statement reads. “We wish the Orchestra the best of luck in its relocation search and extend our continued offer to assist with any additional support with a location in the city limits that it may find suitable. That offer remains on the table.”

But the McKenna statement seems to signal the Orchestra may already be in tune with other locations. “The Orchestra is engaged in confidential site analysis work and that process is expected to last until the spring given the impact by the ongoing pandemic. When that process is completed, we look forward to sharing more details,’ McKenna explained.

“The Orchestra continues to be diligent in its efforts and has looked at numerous sites throughout its planning process. For privately owned sites that have not worked out, the Orchestra has appropriately guaranteed confidentiality and privacy to the involved parties. Because the City owns Payne Park, that process was appropriately open and transparent. As an independent non-profit, our focus is currently on privately owned parcels, so it would not be appropriate for us to comment publicly until the process to negotiate terms and determine site suitability is completed. We are as eager as the community to share news as soon as it is possible, and we remain very committed to our mission and our goal of bringing a world class music center to our Sarasota community.”

Of course, this notably isn’t the first time the Orchestra and City and have seemingly parted ways;. McKenna released a similar statement in January 2020.

The potential departure of the Sarasota Orchestra adds to a list of losses for the city. The Players will relocate soon from a long-time home in Sarasota to The Players Center for Performing Arts in Lakewood Ranch on 4.5 acres there. Mote Marine Laboratory, while maintaining a science presence in Sarasota, broke ground in November of a new aquarium site at Nathan Benderson Park.

Rendering of one-time plan for permance hall in Payne Park.

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