Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Sarasota Orchestra nears its goals with coming Fruitville concert hall

The Sarasota Orchestra is building a state-of-the-art campus on 32 acres near Lakewood Ranch. CEO Joseph McKenna couldn’t be happier.

The Sarasota Orchestra plans to build a new music center on the 32-acre parcel at 5701 Fruitville Road.
The Sarasota Orchestra plans to build a new music center on the 32-acre parcel at 5701 Fruitville Road.
Courtesy photo
  • Arts + Culture
  • Share

Founded in 1948, Sarasota Orchestra has the longest unbroken run of any orchestra in Florida. Its stellar programming has led to a fierce fan base and a constantly expanding audience. 

Over the past two decades, SO experienced profound growth — and growing pains. By the dawn of the 21st century, the orchestra had long outgrown its original home at the Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center in downtown Sarasota. To perform its ambitious Masterworks and Pops concert series, it makes do by renting space at the Van Wezel, Sarasota Opera House and other large-capacity auditoriums. 

In 2018, SO’s new site search began in earnest. It finally ended in May, when the orchestra purchased a 32-acre lot at 5701 Fruitville Road west of Lakewood Ranch with plans to have the campus completed by 2028. After nearly a decade, the orchestra’s new home is on the horizon. 

CEO Joseph McKenna couldn’t be happier, and he was happy to tell us why.

Sarasota Orchestra’s quest for a new location has dragged on for almost a decade. Now your destination is finally in sight. How does it feel? 

It feels great. In 15 or 25 years, Sarasota Orchestra’s new home will be the crossroads of this region. It’s exciting to own a piece of land where our vision can unfold in the 21st century. 

What was your original wish list for the orchestra’s new home?

We’d envisioned a music center that supported every aspect of the orchestra’s mission, including education, rehearsal space and offices. But a concert hall was always the heart of our vision. We’ve been privileged to perform at wonderful venues across the region. But they were all in theatrical auditoriums and not true concert halls designed for musical performance.

What’s the key difference between a theater auditorium and a concert hall?

A theater has a proscenium arch with an implied invisible “fourth” wall defining the edge of the stage. The performers are tucked up in a box on one side of the wall; the audience is on the other. So, in a theater, the audience and performers are separated in two different rooms. With a concert hall, the idea is that the audience and musicians sit in the same room together. 

Sarasota Orchestra President & CEO Joseph McKenna at the orchestra's new site off Fruitville Road.
Courtesy photo
Now that you have the site, how will you plan out this structure?

For a concert hall, the design process is a three-legged stool. We’ve already got two of the legs — an acoustician and a theater planner. The right architect is the only missing element. We’ll be conducting a national search by year’s end.

What are the key features of any great concert hall? 

Great acoustics are obviously vital. That hinges on the cubic volume of space in the auditorium. Our acoustician determined that a height of 110 feet would be the sweet spot. The resulting volume would allow us to do both intimate chamber music as well as big works by Beethoven, Mozart and Strauss. The full spectrum of musical possibilities will become available.

Ah. We take it that ownership is a key feature of your new concert hall.

Definitely. Renting other facilities was always a temporary solution. There’s really no substitute for owning your own land — especially when the zoning allows you to realize your vision on that site. 

According to some architects, every concert hall has its own sonic personality. Do you agree? 

Completely. In a sense, it’s the “instrument” that orchestra musicians collectively play. Sarasota Orchestra is now approaching its 75th anniversary. During all that time, we haven’t had our own instrument to play. In just a few years, we will. We’re all filled with anticipation.

Is it true that a big chunk of the facility’s site will be set aside for natural spaces?

Yes. We’ll be reserving 12 acres out of our 32-acre property. Sarasota Orchestra’s new music center and nature will be in perfect harmony.

How will nature add to concertgoers’ experience?

The outdoor areas will help define the music center as an oasis, a refuge, and a very special place. We believe that nature’s beauty will be as important as the facility itself. We’ll be hiring a landscape architect to make sure we do it right.

Your new facility will be six miles away from Sarasota Orchestra’s current headquarters. Lakewood Ranch and East County residents will expand your audience. But will your existing Sarasota-based audience be willing to go that distance? 

We’ll be expanding our audience by being located in the future center of Sarasota County. Because it’s a short distance to travel for a world-class concert experience in a fantastic acoustic space, we are confident our existing downtown audience won’t think twice about making the drive.

Sarasota Orchestra is known for its joint efforts with other area arts groups. Will you continue those collaborations on the new campus?

Absolutely! We’ll not only maintain them, we will also expand them. That was our goal from the beginning. During our planning process, we interviewed some 30 different music organizations seeking performance and rehearsal space. Their input was important to us. We see the music center as a cultural asset that will benefit the whole region for decades to come. It’ll be Sarasota Orchestra’s new home. But it will also be a resource for the entire arts community.


Latest News