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Orchestra announces plans for new concert hall

The Sarasota Orchestra intends to leave the bayfront, but its search for a new dedicated home will be confined to the city limits.

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  • | 11:32 p.m. June 25, 2018
The Sarasota Orchestra believes it is constrained by its reliance on outside performance venues such as the Van Wezel.
The Sarasota Orchestra believes it is constrained by its reliance on outside performance venues such as the Van Wezel.
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The Sarasota Orchestra wants a place to call its own.

On Monday, orchestra President and CEO Joseph McKenna announced the arts organization is in the process of searching for a location to build a new concert hall. The orchestra intends to relocate from its current bayfront home at the Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center, but it’s limiting its search to sites within the city.

McKenna shared the news at a City Commission workshop held to discuss the future of the bayfront, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and the orchestra. McKenna did not discuss detailed information about the size or cost of the proposed venue, but he said the orchestra hoped to complete its internal planning process by the end of the year.

McKenna said that, as the orchestra studied its future needs during the past four years, it determined its growth was constrained by the performance spaces currently available to the organization.

“We’re trying to play catch-up with growth that’s already happened,” McKenna said.

The orchestra derives a majority of its revenue from performances at venues other than the symphony center. Those venues include the Van Wezel and the Neel Performing Arts Center at State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota. As those venues book other events, McKenna said the orchestra has found itself competing for available performance dates and unable to expand its programming.

“The very essence of what the organization aspires and desires to achieve for the community is under substantial pressure with each passing year,” McKenna said.

McKenna said a new venue would be designed to accommodate the orchestra’s specific needs, such as improved acoustics in the performance space. It would provide room for the organization’s other undertakings, which include the Sarasota Music Festival and the Youth Orchestra Program.

Although a new orchestra venue was initially incorporated into The Bay Sarasota’s plans for redeveloping the city-owned land around the Van Wezel, McKenna said the orchestra determined it needed to move more quickly than it believed the bayfront project would allow.

“The reality is, the anticipated buildout of the bayfront is not favorable to the urgency the orchestra is currently facing,” McKenna said.

As the planning process continues, City Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie asked for a continued dialog with the orchestra so officials can determine whether there are opportunities to feasibly support the organization’s efforts. She said she hoped the new orchestra venue would provide enhanced opportunities for engagement with broad segments of the city’s population.

The orchestra’s next steps include searching for a new site, finalizing financial projections and preparing to launch a philanthropic campaign to fund the project. In his presentation, McKenna said the orchestra’s schedule — along with a broader community desire for more performing arts space — justified the construction of a dedicated concert hall.

“It’s the reality that this community has grown, and it’s time for it to take its next visionary step,” McKenna said. 


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