The city of Sarasota set aside $80,000 for the demolition of the Payne Park Auditorium, when drawing up a budget earlier this year, but the building has received a stay of execution — for now.
Due to an increase in support for the preservation of the auditorium, City Manager Tom Barwin said, the city is reconsidering any plans for demolition. The rationale for tearing it down was that building conditions are less than desirable and the space is underutilized, but a strong response from the public could keep the current structure in place.
“What we’re understanding at this time is that there seems to be a grassroots groundswell to save the auditorium,” Barwin said.
One of the groups leading the charge for keeping the auditorium is the Alta Vista Neighborhood Association. Earlier this month, the group sent an email to Barwin and the City Commission advocating for the preservation of the building.
“We don’t want the thing to go down,” said Pete Theisen, president of the Alta Vista Neighborhood Association. “I haven’t talked to anybody who wants it torn down.”
Theisen said he once regularly attended neighborhood meetings and political candidate forums at the auditorium. If there’s been a decrease in the auditorium’s usage, he said, it’s because the city began charging groups to rent it.
“It’s their own fault,” Theisen said. “They’ve got all these conditions; they’re raising barriers.”
Theisen criticized the city for considering spending money to tear down the building only to build a new one in its place, because the Payne Park master plan calls for an auditorium on the site. During a July budget workshop, it was estimated it would require a $110,000 subsidy from the city’s general fund to cover the costs for maintaining the building.
That’s without considering the improvements that need to be made, Barwin said. The air-conditioning system is barely working, he said, and much of the infrastructure would need to be replaced if the auditorium is maintained.
“It’s been in the city budget for the past two fiscal years to demolish it,” Barwin said. “It’s at that point in time in its history that it needs major dollars.”
Still, the city is interested in learning how the citizens feel before making a decision. Barwin said a town hall meeting will be held in November to gauge whether the public wants to keep the park. After that, it will be more clear what the future holds for the auditorium.
“At that point, if the rationale for preservation is there, the building certainly needs some improvements,” Barwin said. “We’d have to figure out how to get those costs and facilitate the improvements.”
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