What kind of programming would you like to see at a new bayfront performance venue? What obstacles prevent you from seeing shows at such places as Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall? How essential is on-site parking?
These are just a few of the questions the Van Wezel Foundation is asking the community as it develops plans for a new venue to replace the Van Wezel. Through the end of the month, residents can share their thoughts via an online survey that will be used to shape a facility intended to serve as a regional destination.
The group has already sketched out some details of the project, dubbed the Sarasota Performing Arts Center. The venue, located near 10th Street, would be a central component within The Bay Sarasota, a planned public park on city-owned land surrounding the Van Wezel. The center is proposed to be 230,000 square feet and include a main 2,250-seat theater, a 400-seat flexible theater, an education center and outdoor performance spaces. The Van Wezel Foundation estimates the project will cost between $250 million and $270 million, to be funded by a mix of private and public contributions.
Still, key aspects of the project remain unfinalized. Van Wezel Foundation CEO Cheryl Mendelson said the survey will help guide decisions related to the programming at the Sarasota Performing Arts Hall as well as transportation and parking infrastructure.
“We’re looking to build a performing arts center that isn’t a rebuild of the Van Wezel,” Mendelson said. “It’s a multipurpose center with multiple performance spaces really designed as a civic asset.”
The foundation has targeted some ways it hopes to improve accessibility, including educational opportunities, free programming and year-round performances. Mendelson said the group is working in close consultation with The Bay Park Conservancy, the group overseeing the bayfront park project, to explore opportunities for synergy as plans develop.
“This is the whole idea — that we’re going to collaborate and integrate,” Mendelson said of the two projects.
Although COVID-19 affected the foundation’s ability to conduct its public outreach efforts, the group is working with more than 20 other community organizations to promote the survey in hopes of reaching all corners of the region.
Mendelson said the foundation hopes to have a more detailed site plan ready by early 2022, and the group is targeting an opening within seven years. She said public input will be an important tool as the foundation works to create a long-lasting regional attraction.
“We have an opportunity to really build a civic asset, but more importantly, we have a responsibility to create a legacy for this community and for the next generation,” Mendelson said.