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Van Wezel
Sarasota Thursday, Apr. 12, 2018 2 years ago

Bayfront planners ponder future of Van Wezel

As The Bay Sarasota considers a new bayfront performing arts hall, the group also wants to honor the legacy of the existing Van Wezel building — but how?
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

Ahead of a week of presentations focused on the future of the bayfront near downtown, the leaders of The Bay Sarasota want to make one thing clear: It’s not up to them whether the existing Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall is demolished and replaced.

The bayfront group is in the process of producing a master plan for redeveloping more than 50 acres of city-owned land surrounding the Van Wezel. Alongside the planning firm Sasaki, The Bay Sarasota has produced three preliminary concepts for the land.

The group will present the plans to the public at open house events next week. One notable highlight: In all three, there’s a new performing arts hall.

Bayfront planning
The bayfront planners have prepared three preliminary visions for redeveloping the city owned land, all of which feature a new home for the Van Wezel. Image courtesy The Bay Sarasota.

On Tuesday, Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization Chairman A.G. Lafley said the early plans reflect the Van Wezel’s belief it needs a new facility. More than two years ago, the Van Wezel Foundation shared a study from arts consulting firm AMS Planning and Research that recommended an investment between $150 million and $525 million into a new venue.

As The Bay prepares for the forthcoming open house events, the group said the proposed new venue is just an acknowledgement of the stated needs of an existing bayfront tenant. The city owns the land and the Van Wezel building. It also operates the Van Wezel. It will be up to the city, ultimately, to decide whether to make a major investment in a new performing arts center on the bayfront.

But, based on conversations The Bay Managing Director Bill Waddill has had with AMS, the Van Wezel remains steadfast in its belief a new facility is necessary.

“The building either gets removed and honored, or repurposed somehow,” Waddill said of the existing Van Wezel building. “It can’t be a performing arts center any longer.”

The AMS study said the existing structure is operationally limiting and likely needs millions in renovations. Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations place a cap on the amount of money the city could invest in the facility without making major changes to meet modern standards for building in a flood zone.

After The Bay released the preliminary site concepts last month, the group has heard community concerns about the future of the iconic purple Van Wezel building. The Bay said it has no firm plans, but the group is emphasizing that it plans to honor the Van Wezel building’s legacy in one form or another.

On Tuesday, the group threw out a few options. Beyond repurposing the building, the city could incorporate the clam shell shape into the design of a new outdoor amphitheater. Or, it could mandate the use of the distinct purple hue in a new bayfront facility.

The Bay is working with Sasaki to develop more ideas, and the planners want to hear the public’s thoughts, too.

“It’s important for the community to know — in all three schemes, we’re planning on honoring the Van Wezel,” Waddill said. “There are 50 ways to do it beautifully.”

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