Prior to approving the scope of work for a request for proposals to provide a comprehensive study of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, the seven-member Purple Ribbon Committee at its Nov. 29 meeting spent an hour fine-tuning details.
As a collection of architects, historic preservationists, an engineer and a climate scientist are prone to do, they pored over fine details, such as whether the study should consider hurricane-force winds (75 mph sustained) or Category 5 winds (155 mph or faster), current versus possible future FEMA 100-year and 500-year flood standards and whether there is enough plumbing in the 57-year-old building to handle expansion of restroom facilities.
Founded on the basis of determining if and how the Van Wezel could continue to be used when replaced by the proposed Sarasota Performing Arts Center, the committee’s mission has morphed to include what should be done to the building should it remain the city’s primary performance venue if the proposed center is not built.
On its agenda for the third time, the committee approved the language of a request for proposals for an engineering scope of services, but not before further discussion on when it should be issued.
“We can put it out in December and have it all the way until the end of January because this is a comprehensive scope, and we want to make sure that we have as many qualified folks to pursue the project,” said City Engineer Nik Patel.
Committee Chair Lee-En Chung, an engineer by trade, suggested that the time frame was premature.
“I think a lot of owners and projects right now are trying to finish up by the end of the year, or close to the end of the year, and I think if we put an RFP out there right now, people won't look at it until beginning of January,” she said. “Based on my experience, there's just so much design and construction out there. I think it's great that you're being so enthusiastic to get it out there. I just think people are not going to be looking at it right now.”
With that, the committee approved publishing the request for proposals in January with a response deadline of 45 days. The vetting process, City Manager Marlon Brown told the committee, will take approximately 30 days, at which time the committee will recommend the preferred firm to the City Commission.
“You're looking at probably March or April because we have to schedule this at a City Commission meeting for them to approve the selection,” Brown said.
During both of the committee’s recent meetings, members discussed that their deliberations regarding the potential preservation and repurposing of the Van Wezel must take place with an eye toward the possibility that it may serve as the city’s primary performance hall should the Sarasota Performing Arts center not be built, or at least to continue to function in that capacity for up to another decade until the Sarasota Performing Arts Center is built.
“It seems to me there are two levels of improvement that can be done,” said committee member Charles Cosler. “There's a level of improvement that hall needs now just to make sure we don't have any catastrophic failures of HVAC or electrical or even structural because it's the only hall that we have right now. I would say that we have maybe eight years until the new hall comes on line, so maybe the idea might be to fix things that we can fix that makes reasonable sense.”
In either case, Brown said the committee must consider a cost-benefit analysis on any renovation or improvement to the building in context with multiple outcomes.
“If indeed the decision is made by the City Commission to move forward with the new performing arts center, I think where Mr. Cosler is going is what do we need to do with the Van Wezel in the interim to make sure it continues to be functional. If the City Commission says, 'We’re not interested in the performing arts center,' what’s the cost for it to continue for the next 50 or 100 years?”
With no meeting scheduled in December, the next Purple Ribbon Committee meeting is 5:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 29, 2024, in the Commission Chambers at City Hall. Brown suggested an appearance by representatives of the Bay Park Conservancy be considered at a future meeting in order to provide the context of plans for the The Bay park, which include a ring road around the 1,700-space parking lot that would be converted to green space.
“If we do have an existing Van Wezel or repurposed Van Wezel and we have a performing arts hall and if we have something going on in Municipal Auditorium, how is parking going to be handled?” Brown said. “With (The Bay) master plan we have restaurants and shops and other types of activities, so I think it's a good opportunity to sit down with someone from The Bay park, and hear the master plan discussion.”