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Sarasota Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 8 months ago

Orchestra prepares update on venue search

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The Sarasota Orchestra wants to build a new music hall within the city, but any specific sites under consideration remain unknown.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

The Sarasota Orchestra is meeting with the City Commission next week to provide an update on the organization’s search for a new home, including information on its site-selection process.

Ahead of that meeting, it remains unclear where, exactly, the orchestra might hope to build a new venue.

The City Commission is holding a workshop Feb. 26 to discuss the orchestra’s plans for the future. Last summer, with the city in the midst of a larger bayfront planning process, the orchestra announced its intent to move out of the Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center and into a new concert hall somewhere within the city limits.

According to materials included with the workshop agenda, the orchestra’s facility planning dates back to 1997, when a committee foresaw a shortage of performance and education space in the region. Those conversations went dormant during the economic downturn of 2008, but the orchestra hired a consultant to rekindle the process in 2014.

Since then, the orchestra has refined a vision for its future long-term home in Sarasota. The orchestra shared a “preliminary music center vision” with the city, a document that outlines the group’s desires for a venue.

The document calls for an 1,800-seat concert hall and a 700-seat flexible-space recital hall as the centerpiece of a new music center. The proposal also includes rehearsal spaces and an education wing.

In the document, the orchestra frames its proposed music center as a community asset. It says a lack of available performance and rehearsal space is an issue not just for the orchestra, but for arts organizations throughout the city. The music center would ease the scheduling burden of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, the document states. It also says the venue would address the absence of space designed specifically for acoustic music performances.

“We know our city’s vitality is inextricably linked with arts and culture; that has been the case for several decades,” the document states. “We also know our current arts and culture infrastructure is at maximum capacity; it is impossible for any of our organizations to accelerate their work with the status quo.”

The agenda materials state the orchestra plans to update the City Commission on the vision for the music center and on the site-exploration process. The materials do not include any information on what steps the orchestra has taken to search for a new site, nor any details on specific locations the organization may be considering.

Ahead of the workshop, Sarasota Orchestra President and CEO Joseph McKenna declined to share additional details on the site-selection process or the information that will be presented Feb. 26.

“Our plan is to do exactly what the agenda item says, which is: We’re going to update them on the vision, update them on our process on site exploration,” McKenna said.

Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown said the city is aware of sites the orchestra is considering, but has been asked not to disclose them before the workshop.

City Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch said the she hasn’t received any more information than what’s available to the public. Although she said she prefers to know as much as possible ahead of a meeting, she said she understands the orchestra may still be refining its plans.

Ahearn-Koch expects to learn more at the workshop — and because the commission can’t take any official action at a workshop, she doesn’t see any issues.

“I’m OK with that at this point,” Ahearn-Koch said.

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