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Sarasota Wednesday, May 15, 2019 2 years ago

My View: Reject the Sarasota Orchestra’s land grab in Payne Park

The group's argument that moving to the downtown-adjacent park is all about rising sea levels is absurd.
by: Joseph Bartel

The Sarasota Orchestra, in its breathtaking arrogance, is plumbing new depths in this race to the bottom.

The Sarasota City Commission, unless it stands up to the Orchestra, will be wholly complicit in this perversion. 

Consider the facts. 

  • The Sarasota Orchestra wishes to relocate specifically to Payne Park because its bayfront location is too susceptible to rising seas.
  • In the “Masterplan Vision” the orchestra presented to the City Commission Feb. 26, and which forms part of the official package for the May 20 City Commission meeting, the orchestra audaciously states of the Payne Park location: “Mitigates sea level and tidal surge for philanthropists.”
  • And so the truth is revealed. It is one thing for the orchestra’s donors (“philanthropists”) to make demands and for the orchestra to make those demands its own. It is inexcusable, however, for the City Commission to ignore all logic in its blind zeal to capitulate to the orchestra.
Payne Park

If the Sarasota bayfront is inundated because of rising seas, that means Siesta Key, Lido Key, Bird Key, Longboat Key and much of downtown Sarasota also will be inundated. Who will care for one moment about the Sarasota Orchestra when their homes are flooded, when their way of life is at risk, when they are fleeing for higher ground?

It is repugnant to suggest that the Sarasota Orchestra matters in the slightest if we are all retreating inland to escape the effects of climate change. 

Furthermore, it is absurd to suggest that reducing the amount of green space in Payne Park somehow “mitigates sea level and tidal surge.”

Sarasota Orchestra CEO Joseph McKenna cannot credibly state that he cares about climate change if he’s advocating paving over green space. 

Mr. McKenna’s hypocrisy is at least explained by his job. He’s paid to do the orchestra’s bidding, even if he distorts the truth in the course of doing so. But what explains the City Commission’s behavior? Why didn’t the City Commission immediately reject the orchestra’s plan for being prima facie outrageous and inappropriate? 

There is no potential explanation that survives scrutiny. 

If the City Commission is concerned that the Sarasota Orchestra will leave for Lakewood Ranch unless its demands are met, let the orchestra leave. It is not the orchestra’s place to hold the city hostage.

Our city is more than just the orchestra, and it will survive and thrive with or without the orchestra.

Nothing good comes from refusing to say “no” when “no” is the only right answer.

How long after the orchestra’s plan is approved until the next set of “philanthropists” demands another seven acres from a different part of Payne Park, and how long until the City Commission capitulates again, bound by the new precedent it will have created? 

If the City Commission believes it’s a simple matter to defy the plain meaning of the Payne family’s gift, it is not reading the city attorney’s memo. To quote Robert Fournier: “I have concluded that there is Florida case law that could support a potentially successful legal argument that the Sarasota Orchestra could be re-located in Payne Park consistent with the deed restriction.”

This means the city may prevail in a lawsuit, or it may not. There is nothing in the case law that suggests the city, which has a recent history of losing lots of money in court cases, should definitely expect to prevail.

Honest stewards of the city would read the memo and conclude the following: The case law doesn’t necessarily support what the orchestra is seeking; the orchestra has no legal right in the first place to get what it demands; we’re going to have to fight in court to prevail (if we ever prevail); and it’s an inappropriate use of city money to fight a legal battle on the orchestra’s behalf when we’ve been warned from the outset that the battle is based on “could” and “potentially.” 

My hope is the citizens of Sarasota will demand en masse that the City Commission reject the Sarasota Orchestra’s land grab and that city residents will demand the immediate resignation of any city commissioners who approve the land grab.

Joseph Bartel is a resident of Sarasota, a longtime passholder at Payne Park Tennis Center and a supporter of the Preserve Payne Park Coalition


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