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Orchestra's plans for new center approved by Planning Commission

The Fruitville Road site gains approval recommendation and heads to the County Commission for final consideration in January.


The Sarasota Orchestra's proposal is for a new music center on Fruitville Road west of I-75.
The Sarasota Orchestra's proposal is for a new music center on Fruitville Road west of I-75.
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Sarasota Orchestra’s plan to build a regional music center just outside the city limits will head to the Sarasota County Commission in early 2023 with an unanimous recommendation from the county's Planning Commission.

By a vote of 5-0 in early December, the Planning Commission approved a package of requests sought by the orchestra to pave the way for development of nearly 32 acres on Fruitville Road, just west of Interstate 75.

“If you heard this random scream coming from out east, that was from me when I got this,’’ Planning Commission member Teresa Mast said during the Dec. 1 meeting. “My children have been a part of this incredible organization, I cannot begin to say how excited I am. I can’t wait to get my season tickets. I am so excited.”

Among the key provisions of the approval were changes to elements of a 1980s-era set of standards in the area’s so-called Planned Commerce District. Among them, allowing the highest portion of the orchestra’s new centerpiece performance hall to rise 110 feet from ground level for interior acoustics, allowing indoor performances past 10 p.m. and some changes in buffer configurations.

“Acousticians have calculated that the building height may need to be up to 110 feet to accommodate comfortable and accessible seating, while also creating reverberation times that optimize the sounds of orchestral and choral groups,’’ the orchestra said in an update to members.

The intersection at Fruitville Road and Paramount Drive would be upgraded as part of the plan to build a new home for Sarasota Orchestra.
Photo by Eric Garwood

Also required: the establishment of a ADA-compatible bus stop and shelter at the facility, along with changes to Fruitville Road’s intersection with Paramount Drive, which will provide main in-and-out access. A traffic light already exists at the intersection. 

“This is an incredible project,’’ said Kelly Klepper, planning firm of Kimley-Horn. “It’s not only a community, county asset but it's also a regional asset.”

Sarasota Orchestra plans an 1,800-seat main concert hall on the property at 5701 Fruitville Road, in addition to a 700-seat flexible recital hall space and educational and office space, room for a youth program, a library and instrument storage.

Sale of the land, owned by Wal-mart Stores East LP, is set to close in February, attorney Dan Bailey said, pending County Commission approval. The Commission is set to consider the measure on Jan. 18, 2023.

The 31.7 acre plot is sandwiched between a shopping center to the west, a Sam’s Club location to the east and a residential neighborhood to the north. The land was sold to Wal-mart in 2005 by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

No purchase price has been revealed, but a release announcing the plans in March 2022 said private philanthropy had already been fully raised. County records indicate the land has a 2022 value of $7.6 million. 

Bailey said design and construction would likely take about five years combined.

“The committee has been held in suspense for quite some time trying to figure out where the orchestra was going to land,’’ Bailey said. “We were kind of in suspense, too, trying to figure it out. There were a number of sites that were under consideration.’’

The orchestra’s announcement in March 2022 of the site in unincorporated Sarasota County brought to a close years of conversations about a future home for the organization. With 245 employees, Bailey said at the Planning Commission meeting, the orchestra had simply outgrown its downtown Sarasota home.

In September 2021, Orchestra CEO McKenna said the group had ruled out all sites within city limits and is focusing its search for a new home elsewhere in Sarasota County.

Since 2019, the orchestra had identified Payne Park as the lone viable site for a new music hall within city limits as the organization plans to relocate from its current primary venue on the bayfront. Although the city initially rejected a proposal to use seven acres in Payne Park for an orchestra facility, the City Commission reversed course, empowering staff to include parkland in its negotiations with McKenna.

In June 2020, McKenna said the orchestra considered Payne Park to be “off the table,” citing legal issues and questioning the city’s openness to allowing the orchestra to use a portion of the property. At the time, city officials expressed optimism the orchestra was still willing to negotiate.

Mote Marine Lab and Aquarium is building a new attraction not far from the site at Benderson Park. Additionally, the multi-use Fruitville Commons area is under construction nearby on the east side of Interstate 75 and Lakewood Ranch's Waterside community continues to grow south deeper into Sarasota County.

“You would’t hear me screaming, but I’m very excited to see this come to fruition, and I’m excited for the next iteration of the orchestra here in town,’’ said Planning Commission member Kevin Cooper.

 

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Eric Garwood

Eric Garwood is the managing editor of the Longboat Observer and the Sarasota Observer. Since graduating from University of South Florida in 1984, he's been a reporter and editor at newspapers in Florida and North Carolina.

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