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Orchestra shares vision for Payne Park venue

The Sarasota Orchestra has approached the city with a proposal to construct a new music hall on the downtown park property.

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  • | 7:30 p.m. February 26, 2019
Joseph McKenna, president and CEO of the Sarasota Orchestra, presents the organization's proposal for a new venue at Payne Park during a City Commission workshop Tuesday,  Feb. 26.
Joseph McKenna, president and CEO of the Sarasota Orchestra, presents the organization's proposal for a new venue at Payne Park during a City Commission workshop Tuesday, Feb. 26.
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After the Sarasota Orchestra conducted an exhaustive search for a site to construct a new music hall, one location stood above the rest: Payne Park.

At a City Commission workshop today, Sarasota Orchestra President and CEO Joseph McKenna unveiled the organization’s vision for a venue on the city-owned park property, located just southeast of the downtown core. Although many details — including cost — were not made available, McKenna said the orchestra hoped to quickly secure the city’s support for that vision.

The presentation drew a series of preliminary questions from the commission, which was discussing the concept in a public setting for a first time. The board expressed a desire for the orchestra to conduct thorough public outreach on its proposal. Commissioners asked about the logistics of building a concert hall within the footprint of the park.

Still, a majority of the commission made some show of early support for the proposal.

“I think it’s a really exciting, well-thought-out plan,” Mayor Liz Alpert said. “I have full confidence that all of these questions will be able to be worked out. “

The orchestra announced its plans to move out of the bayfront Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center last summer, citing constraints on performance space as a primary factor behind the need for a new venue. Today, McKenna reiterated the challenges associated with splitting performances between different locations — particularly given the needs of other local arts organizations.

“There is a true urgency for us to move ahead promptly with realizing a new venue,” McKenna said.

During the past eight months, the orchestra has worked to refine a plan for a dedicated music hall within city limits. Ahead of the workshop, the orchestra shared information outlining its preliminary concept for the scope of a new venue. The proposal is centered around an 1,800-seat concert hall and 700-seat flexible recital hall. The building would also include rehearsal spaces and an education wing.

McKenna said the Payne Park proposal, which would use seven acres of the 39-acre park property, satisfied several different needs the orchestra identified. That includes a desire to move out of a flood zone and the potential to use existing resources — in particular, the county parking garage at Ringling Boulevard and East Avenue.

Although the concept plan includes the creation of 200 new parking spaces to serve the venue, McKenna expressed optimism much of the venue’s parking needs could be addressed in the existing 1,059-space structure. The orchestra would need to reach an agreement with the county to secure use of the parking garage, which McKenna said would be ideal for nighttime and weekend performances.

During the planning process, the orchestra has worked with HKS Architects, the firm that designed the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando. At the workshop, HKS Principal Matt Clear expressed excitement about the potential to build a venue that complements the public park.

“This is one of those sites you dream about as an opportunity for the synergy of having an orchestra hall and a park at the same location,” Clear said. “But it takes vision.”

The proposed facility would be located in the northwest corner of the site, where the Payne Park Tennis Center currently sits. McKenna said the orchestra would commit to relocating the tennis facilities south of the proposed venue, and the organization pledged all existing park amenities would be maintained or improved.

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch questioned what level of support the orchestra was seeking from the city — whether it be a lease agreement or some form of financial contribution to the project. McKenna said the orchestra was not prepared to discuss those topics at this point in time and did not provide a timeline for when such conversations might place.

“When the vision’s embraced, then the trains can move,” McKenna said following the meeting.

Commissioners Shelli Freeland Eddie and Hagen Brody both encouraged the orchestra to reach out to stakeholders who might be affected by the proposal, including nearby residents and those who use the tennis facility. McKenna said the orchestra was focused on working collaboratively, stating discussions with city staff and the community would begin imminently following today’s workshop.

During the meeting, McKenna also anticipated the public wouldn’t hesitate to share its input on the concept for a new venue.

“My sense is that we’ll have a lot of reaction to this transformational vision within minutes of leaving this chamber,” McKenna said.


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