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Members of the public spoke in support of preservation of the Payne Park Auditorium Monday. The fate of the auditorium will continue to be unknown until at least February or March.
Sarasota Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013 3 years ago

Citizens speak out in support of Payne Park Auditorium

by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

On Monday, a city-held community workshop at Payne Park Auditorium largely served as a platform 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 city has considered tearing the building down, but postponed any final decision due to 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.

Members of neighborhood associations, which once held meetings in the auditorium, said their groups only stopped using the space because the city started charging to rent the building.

People who attended the Adult Singles Dance Club, which held dance nights in the auditorium, 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 perfect for their events.

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.

Rather than tear it down and build a new auditorium in the future, he said, the city should just focus on preserving an 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.

Despite some concerns from some attendees, Public Works General Manager Todd Kucharski said no decision has been made about the future of the auditorium, as the city wanted to hear 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 still 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 protected]

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