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Sarasota Thursday, Jun. 10, 2010 7 years ago

Sour note

by: Robin Roy City Editor

Leaders from the Sarasota Orchestra appealed to city leaders this week for some relief for the rising rental costs at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

The chairwoman of the orchestra board, Marsha Panuche, said rental rates and fees have climbed 94% in the past three years — $199,894 in 2007 to $388,358 in 2009.

“Virtually no nonprofit can withstand that,” she said.

Panuche and Orchestra President and CEO Joe McKenna appeared before the City Commission to seek relief from the Van Wezel rates, as well as begin a discussion on how the city can help fund the arts, which is the area’s fifth-largest industry.

“The arts and cultural industry have the potential to reinvigorate the economy,” Panuche said.

And local funding for the arts may be critical — Sarasota County’s state arts grants have plummeted from more than $2 million in 2007 to just $160,000 this year.

The Sarasota Orchestra is not the only arts organization that feels the Van Wezel’s rates have gotten too expensive.

The Sarasota Ballet moved all of its performances to the Asolo Theatre and Sarasota Opera last year, because it could no longer afford the Van Wezel’s rent.

City Manager Bob Bartolotta said the reason for the increased rates comes from his desire to keep all taxpayers from subsidizing the performing-arts hall.

“It’s an attempt to move costs from the taxpayer to the user,” he said.

Before fiscal year 2008-09, city taxpayers had been paying for the Van Wezel, even though only 10% of the hall’s customers live within city limits.

Bartolotta felt it was only fair for the users who live outside the city to help pay for its upkeep. He accomplished that by instituting a $2 parking fee and a $3 capital improvement fee on each ticket.

Nevertheless, he told Panuche that he is willing to work on options, including a possible 10% fee reduction for heavy users of the hall, such as the orchestra.

The Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center has a similar program in which it offers a reduction for organizations that have used the facility for three or more seasons.

Mayor Kelly Kirschner suggested Panuche and McKenna approach the county’s Festival Steering Committee, which plans to appropriate $750,000 to the arts, and see if it can offer assistance. Panuche said she would explore that option.

Not everyone is complaining about the Van Wezel rates, though.

“I get a lot of their business,” said Michelle Bianchi-Pingel, Players Theatre managing director.

She said the Players is currently booked through 2011. Before the hike in Van Wezel’s rates, she said bookings only went three months out.

“A lot of times, people call the Van Wezel first and then call us,” said Bianchi-Pingel.

To view a chart displaying cost analysis for the multiple venues, click here.

Contact Robin Roy at [email protected].

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