On Monday, a city-held community workshop at Payne Park Auditorium largely served as a platform for residents to argue for that building’s continued existence.
The meeting was focused on updating the Payne Park master plan, and a wide variety of speakers — from shuffleboarders to disc golfers — appeared at Monday’s workshop. Still, the most common discussion topic was the auditorium, the future of which is uncertain.
The city has considered tearing the building down because it doesn’t bring in enough revenue to cover its maintenance expenses. City officials decided to postpone any decision on the auditorium’s fate after receiving feedback from people who wanted it preserved.
Those people made up a sizable contingent of the audience at Monday’s meeting. Many complained about what they felt was an unreasonable fee structure to use the auditorium: The building costs at least $160 per hour to rent, with a two-hour minimum per event.
People who attended the Adult Singles Club of Sarasota and Manatee Counties, which held dance nights in the auditorium until October, praised the building. Despite the city’s claims that the infrastructure and air conditioning must be overhauled, several speakers said they hadn’t had a problem with the building, and that the dance floor and stage were well-suited for their events.
Murray Duffin is one of the dancers who spoke at Monday’s meeting. He said the depiction of the auditorium as run-down confused him.
“I think it must all be among a few people who work for the city, because I’ve never heard a negative characterization of the building from anybody,” he said.
He said if the city wanted to make more money, it should charge less and hold more events, rather than charging the current rates and holding fewer events. He thought the auditorium wasn’t succeeding only because the city hadn’t made that a priority.
“What gets done is what gets measured,” Duffin said. “Give somebody the job to make this place successful.”
Pete Theisen is the president of the Alta Vista Neighborhood Association, a group that sent a letter to the city in August supporting the preservation of the building. He said he and many other people in the community view the auditorium as a public possession, and are reluctant to lose it.
Members of the Alta Vista Neighborhood Association, which once held meetings in the auditorium for free, said resident groups only stopped using the space because the city started charging to rent the building.
Rather than tear it down and build a new auditorium in the future, he said, the city should just focus on preserving the existing usable building.
“We need to get over the idea that everything we do has to be done in the most expensive way possible,” Theisen said.
The auditorium also received support from those interested in preserving a building that dates back to 1962. Pandora Seibert, an interior decorator, said as older buildings are torn down with greater frequency, it’s important to fight to maintain the ones that are still in place.
“The era of the building, the architecture is why I came out,” Seibert said. “It’s really necessary to preserve the building.”
City Commissioner Susan Chapman, who attended Monday’s meeting, said she was surprised by the condition of the auditorium after hearing reports from city staff about the need for major improvements to maintain the building.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s in as bad shape as it’s been made out to be,” Chapman said.
Despite some concerns from some attendees, Public Works General Manager Todd Kucharski said no decision has been made about the future of the auditorium because the city wanted to hear more from its residents. After the city is satisfied with the response it’s received, a consulting firm will use that information to recalibrate the park’s overall master plan.
“Once we get the feedback, we’ll incorporate that within the master plan,” Kucharski said. ‘Then, our consultants will review what makes the most sense for the community going forward.”
The city will continue to gather input from residents until January, and the consulting firm David Johnston and Associates will present its recommendations to the community in February or March, Kucharski said.
Until then, the auditorium’s fate is unclear.
“If the best option is to keep it and renovate it, that’s what we’ll do with it,” Kucharski said. “Whatever the commission and the community wants, that’s the way it’ll be.”
Contact David Conway at email@example.com
Currently 1 Response
- It seems the public mindset is that anything that is over 25 years old needs to be torn down and re-built. That''s how we have lost most of the history and character of the city. Instead of spending $500K to rehab, lets spend $2 million for a new one. Makes sense to me.
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