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Van Wezel repurposing panel begins study of performing arts hall

The Purple Ribbon Committee will tour the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall at its next meeting on Aug. 28.
The Purple Ribbon Committee will tour the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall at its next meeting on Aug. 28.
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A panel of community members selected by the City Commission has begun its work to study repurposing of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall once the new Sarasota Performing Arts Center is completed.

Present at the Purple Ribbon Committee’s first meeting Tuesday evening were Lee-En Chung, Charles Cosler, David Rovine, Marty Hylton and Selma Goker Wilson. Melissa Gissinger and Robert Bunting were absent because they were out of town. 

Following a requisite orientation on Florida sunshine law compliance, Chung, who grew up in Sarasota and brings civil structural engineering expertise, was elected chair. Hylton, a newcomer who has lived here since January, was elected vice chair. His expertise is in historical preservation.

City Manager Marlon Brown told the committee a comprehensive assessment of the conditions of the Van Wezel will begin in the coming months and, once the committee’s initial meetings in late summer to perhaps early fall are complete, there may not be a need to reconvene for several months.

"I don't foresee possibly having another meeting unless something pops up because that assessment needs to be done,” Brown said. “It could take six months to possibly a year. We may have some meetings in between just to keep you updated as to what's happening and you can meet the consultant to hear where they are in the whole process and to be able to ask questions before they complete that.”

That study is not to be confused with what is commonly referred to as the Karins Report, which Brown said does not reach the comprehensive level of detail the committee will need for its deliberations. In 2021, Brown commissioned that study by Karins Engineering of Sarasota.

In addition to the new study, the committee will be guided by a third-party facilitator, similar to the task force seated to recommend an architecture firm to design the new performing arts center.

“I'm in the process of reviewing an RFP for that,” Brown said. “It's right now in draft and I'm going to be meeting with the procurement staff to make sure we can get that out and see if we get an individual who can facilitate these meetings. I don't foresee that person getting on board until probably your fourth meeting, after you get the tour and after you talk to staff.”

That tour will be the focus of the next committee meeting at 2 p.m. Monday, Aug. 28. As an official meeting of the committee, the 90-minute tour is open to the public. The purpose is for members to take a peek behind the curtain and make an in-person assessment of the conditions of the building from box office to basement.

Two meetings were scheduled for next month, on Sept. 13 in the commission chambers at City Hall and Sept. 27 in the Grand Foyer at the Van Wezel. The meetings will begin at 5:30 p.m. Future meetings will be held at the Van Wezel unless it is unavailable. 



Andrew Warfield

Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.