Roger Barry wants to keep the Sarasota Orchestra close to downtown. Kelly Franklin wants to preserve the entirety of Payne Park.
Nearly two years ago, orchestra supporters and park defenders took opposite sides of a contentious debate over the orchestra’s proposal to build a music hall on 7 acres in Payne Park. Although the city rejected that proposal in May 2019, officials are now returning to that conversation, reconsidering the prospect of a site in or around Payne Park.
Ahead of a conversation at Monday’s commission meeting, Barry and Franklin are optimistic about avoiding the conflict of the past and finding a workable solution. Earlier this month, Mayor Hagen Brody asked to schedule a discussion item about reengaging with the orchestra to explore options in the area. He said he remained opposed to the 2019 proposal the orchestra submitted, but he was hopeful the city might be able to identify another option.
Barry, a planning professor and downtown resident, is an advocate for retaining the orchestra in the city. Following the 2019 vote, the orchestra said it is focusing its search for a new home outside of the city limits and hopes to identify a site by the middle of 2021. Groups including the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Improvement District and Downtown Sarasota Condominium Association have encouraged the city to do what it can to retain the orchestra.
“There are several downtown groups that are interested in this because they understand when you lose important pedestrian generators in your city, it diminishes your business base, it diminishes the cultural base,” Barry said.
Barry said there are city- and county-owned parcels surrounding Payne Park that could be assembled to take advantage of the orchestra’s favored site.
Franklin, the president of the Preserve Payne Park coalition, said she was concerned when she heard Brody’s agenda request, but she’s open to the idea — so long as it’s not actually using land inside Payne Park. She, too, believes there should be sufficient land around the park.
If the city or the orchestra were to broach the subject of using land in Payne Park, Franklin anticipated it would again draw outspoken opposition and invite a legal challenge. But Franklin was hopeful the conversation would not be as divisive as it had been.
“I think that’s what we’d all like, is to end the civic wars and have a civic dialogue,” Franklin said.