Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Commission OKs owner's rep for SPAC architect selection

The city will hire an owner's representative to advise on the new art center process, and commissioners held an initial discussion on repurposing the Van Wezel.

Groundwater seepage and occasional flooding from Sarasota Bay are among the reasons the city is pursuing a replacement for the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
Groundwater seepage and occasional flooding from Sarasota Bay are among the reasons the city is pursuing a replacement for the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
Photo by Andrew Warfield
  • Sarasota
  • News
  • Share

Before the initial discussion about forming a blue ribbon committee to explore the future of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall should a replacement building become reality, City Manager Marlon Brown at Tuesday's City Commission meeting introduced a request to engage the services of Professional Facilities Management as an owner's representative on an as-needed basis.

Lynn Singleton, the founder of PFM, is a part-time Englewood resident with 46 years if experience in running nonprofit and for-profit theaters and theaters with agreements with cities. Most recently, he helped lead the opening of two North Carolina theaters: the Durham Performing Arts Center in Durham and the Tanger Center for Performing Arts in Greensboro. 

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch, who eventually joined her colleagues in unanimous approval, initially expressed concern over the timing of bringing onboard a consultant to the proposed new Sarasota Performing Arts Center.

“What I think is a misstep is that we engage and pay somebody before we know we're actually building a new facility and before we know that we are actually going to go forward with an implementation agreement.” Ahearn-Koch said. "If this implementation agreement came back to us and we vote against it, we would have spent the money on an owner's rep to build something that's not being built.”

That implementation agreement would be between the city and the SPAC Foundation in a joint public-private venture. A task force is currently undergoing an architect selection process with 18 candidates currently under consideration, narrowed from a pool of 43 applicants. Its work is expected to be concluded in April.

Brown explained that bringing an owner's rep on board at this juncture will help provide staff the very guidance needed to help determine the scope, scale and viability of the SPAC as implementation agreement with the SPAC Foundation is developed, not afterward. 

Without that expertise watching out for the city’s best interest, he said, the architect selection process should stop now.

“Unless you're going to stop the process for the architect selection, I need an owner's rep to be part of that,” Brown said. “So if you want to make a decision today to stop the architectural process, go ahead and do that, and we'd have no need for an owner's rep. But I need someone to be the city's rep watching what's going on in that particular selection.”

Even with her reservations over the timing of bringing an owner's rep on board, Ahearn-Koch joined her colleagues in supporting Brown’s request. When questioned over the cost of PFM’s services, Brown said he could not speculate, but that they would be on an as-needed basis rather than on a retainer.

Asked about how he perceives his role in the architect selection process and beyond, Singleton said he sees it as an “honest broker.”

“The manager and the commissioners are going to ask me for an opinion, and I'm going to tell you my collective opinion. I will say these are the options and this was what I would recommend without conflict,” Singleton said. “The other reason I'm here is I not only live Rhode Island, I also own a home in Englewood, so I have an oar in the water here, short term and long term. I want to see what you build as very impactful to the city.”

Brown told commissioners PFM will not be asked to provide input in the pursuit of a possible repurposing of the 55-year-old Van Wezel, which was a topic of discussion during Tuesday’s afternoon session.

The city’s agreement with the SPAC Foundation last year included a commitment to convene a blue ribbon committee to determine the viable and financial sustainability options for the future use of the Van Wezel, which will not fall under the the purview of the foundation if and when the SPAC opens. Whatever final form the Van Wezel may take — one vision, for example, is to operate as a smaller, more intimate theater — it will continue to be owned by the city as part of The Bay park.

Not due to be selected until April, commissioners held their first round of talks over the composition of the ad hoc committee.

“I'm curious as to what the commission thinks about a commission-appointed committee,” said Commissioner Erik Arroyo. For other boards, the city solicits applications and commissioners select from that pool. “Let's say each one of us selects two three people and if we had a criteria for having an architect, a historical preservation expert, an engineer; then we can select from each one of those categories.”

Vice Mayor Liz Alpert asked Van Wezel Executive Director and city staff member Mary Bensel her thoughts on a requisite mix of talents of the committee.

“I think you’ve touched on a great number of them. I also think you need to have a marketing person and someone who literally deals with Broadway directly, as well as booking agents for artists,” Bensel said, adding she comes from a position of neutrality. “I really don't feel I have a dog in the hunt. This is for the community. I'm not looking to run the new performing arts hall at this point because that'll be years down the road.”

The size of the committee and how it will be comprised will be determined in future discussions.

“We don't have to seat this committee until April, so think about everything that you've heard today, and we can reconvene and have a further discussion,” Brown said. “Think about responsibilities. Think about who you would like to help as facilitators, whether it's someone with a civil engineering background, some historic preservation, background an architect, some theatrical expertise. Give it some thought whether you want to select individuals that have no experience or some with certain expertise and criteria, and we can have this discussion again.”



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.

Latest News