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Funding push begins anew for Sarasota performing arts center project

If everything goes according to plan, the new Sarasota performing arts center could be completed in about six years.

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  • | 1:30 p.m. January 25, 2022
The Van Wezel Foundation has announced next steps in it plan to build a performing arts center to replace the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
The Van Wezel Foundation has announced next steps in it plan to build a performing arts center to replace the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
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The fundraising push for the new Sarasota performing arts center is about to begin in earnest.

The facility, which will be funded by a public and private partnership, is now undergoing a recosting estimate and is expected to go to a public hearing within a couple months. Cheryl Mendelson, the CEO of the Van Wezel Foundation, said Monday that she hopes the project can be funded, designed and built over the next six years.

“There’s a lot of money that has to get raised,” Mendelson says. “We have to have the community passionate about this. We need to have our city government have the vision and the foresight to say, ‘We must do this now.’”

The existing Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall was built 52 years ago, and a 2017 Climate Adaptation Plan identified it as being located in the middle of a high risk flood zone.

The project would develop the ground the hall sits on in addition to funding a new building. The new facility is expected to have a main stage with 2,250 seats as well as a 400-seat flexible performance space that looks out on an event lawn.

Mendelson says the plan is to build the new edifice without interrupting the events at the existing facility. The Van Wezel Foundation believed the project would cost between $300 million and $350 million in 2018, but it’s unclear what the final tab will be.

She says the organization paused its fundraising efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic so it could concentrate on funding for the existing needs of the organization. But now they’re back at it and beginning to take the full measure of their funding needs.

"We’ll provide an updated range as we go public in front of the commission hopefully by the end of this quarter," Mendelson says. "We’re still working on that, and it’s complicated.”

If everything goes according to plan, the Van Wezel Foundation would progress to selection of architectural firms by this summer.

Then the project would go through two years of a design phase and 30 months of construction before opening its doors at some point in 2028 or 2029. The public took part in an extensive survey about the project in 2020.

The Van Wezel Foundation plans on at least $50 million coming from a $200 million tax increment financing plan that was passed by the city and county in 2020. The hope is that by the time all the money is raised, it will amount to a 50-50 split between public funding and private philanthropy.

Gov. Ron DeSantis pledged a grant of $10.5 million to The Bay Sarasota project last week, and Mendelson says it’s imperative to work hand in hand with local government.

“This is why we cannot delay this project,” Mendelson says, “because there are resources for infrastructure coming forward in a way we will not see again in a long time.”


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