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St. Armands group considers amphitheater in Circle

The St. Armands Business Improvement District is interested in exploring options for increasing activity in a park in the middle of the commercial zone.

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  • | 2:07 p.m. July 14, 2021
Tom Leonard presented this conceptual drawing of a potential amphitheater in St. Armands Circle Park at a meeting on Wednesday, July 14. Image via city of Sarasota.
Tom Leonard presented this conceptual drawing of a potential amphitheater in St. Armands Circle Park at a meeting on Wednesday, July 14. Image via city of Sarasota.
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A group of St. Armands property owners is interested in pursuing ambitious plans to reshape St. Armands Circle Park, the public open space in the center of the barrier island commercial district.

At a meeting today, the St. Armands Business Improvement District considered a specific vision that board member Tom Leonard imagined: constructing an amphitheater on the southwestern end of the park.

Leonard came to the meeting with little more than an idea and a conceptual sketch depicting a midcentury-modern-inspired covered stage structure, but he was optimistic the BID could team with other stakeholders to make the proposal a reality.

“I think an amphitheater would be a positive for the Circle, for residents, for the city of Sarasota,” Leonard said.

The amphitheater concept comes as the BID has spent months discussing options for creating more activity on St. Armands, including some specific emphasis on the prospect of enlivening St. Armands Circle Park. The BID previously offered support for a private proposal to place a carousel in the park, an idea that has drawn some pushback from residents and the St. Armands Circle Association, a merchants group.

The BID discussed some logistical hurdles to adding an amphitheater or any other major amenity to the park. Diana Corrigan, emeritus executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association, said a mound at the center of the open space would make it challenging to install a new feature while still holding events that have traditionally operated out of the park. Corrigan suggested the park would have to be flattened and new drainage systems would have to be installed before the park could accommodate an amphitheater or carousel.

Despite that challenge, the BID remained interested in developing a more robust plan for making changes in St. Armands Circle Park. Although there were no cost estimates associated with the amphitheater project, Leonard expressed hope St. Armands leaders could facilitate a project relying solely on private funds. Other board members wanted to keep open the option of seeking public funding support from the city.

“This is going to be expensive no matter what,” board member Geoffrey Michel said.

The BID’s interest in the amphitheater doesn’t necessarily preclude sustained support for the carousel concept. Board member Mindy Kauffman said she liked the idea of the carousel because it would generate a steady stream of activity in the park, rather than relying on periodic concerts or other special events.

“The carousel is going to bring trickle traffic every single day,” Kauffman said.

The board agreed to let Leonard take the lead on refining the amphitheater concept for consideration at a future meeting. Regardless of what direction the BID ultimately decides to take, the group is enthusiastic about the potential for improving St. Armands Circle Park.

“That center is so underutilized,” board member Gavin Meshad said.