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Applications open for committee to explore future of Van Wezel

With composition and mission parameters approved, seven seats on the Purple Ribbon Committee to recommend future use of the iconic performing arts hall are up for grabs.

The city of Sarasota is exploring future uses of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall once a new Sarasota Performing Arts Center is built.
The city of Sarasota is exploring future uses of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall once a new Sarasota Performing Arts Center is built.
Photo by Andrew Warfield
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On Monday the Sarasota City Commission approved the composition of a Purple Ribbon Committee to explore the continued use of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and the role it might play in tandem with a new Sarasota Performing Arts Center just a few hundred yards away.

The seven-member ad hoc committee will have two years to bring its recommendations to the City Commission, providing they don’t include the word “reuse,” which was removed from the ordinance unanimously approved by commissioners.

The city is now accepting applications for the committee, which will be tasked to study financially sustainable options for the Van Wezel as well as the use, purpose and lease of the facility.

The committee will comprise seven members from the following categories:

  • One with expertise in architecture and also with expertise in the design of performing arts centers and the reuse of large public structures and buildings.
  • One with expertise in historical preservation.
  • One with expertise in civil structural engineering.
  • One with financial expertise in the field of the performing arts.
  • One with expertise in climate adaptation, FEMA and flood plains.
  • Two residents of the city of Sarasota.

Other than the two at-large citizens, there are no residency requirements for the five remaining members. 

Among the primary points of discussion by commissioners on Monday were residency of the members and the removal of reuse from the ordinance. Reuse, commissioners agreed, would limit the scope of potential functions of the Van Wezel. Also adjusted in the drafting of the ordinance over several weeks was the removal of non-compete language with the proposed SPAC. 

The seating area of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall seats 1,741.
Photo by Andrew Warfield

“Something of this magnitude and this importance to the city should involve people from wherever,” said Mayor Kyle Battie. “I think we should open it up to those who have expertise in the various fields pertaining to this project from wherever they may come from.”

Commissioner Debbie Trice said, depending on the committee's findings, the Van Wezel could possibly serve as the smaller performance hall currently included in plans for the SPAC. To accomplish that, she suggested a one-year time frame for the committee’s work.

“We don't want to give it too much time because I think we want recommendations coming back early enough to influence the design of the new performing arts center,” Trice said. “For example, if a restored Van Wezel could fill the SPAC’s requirement for a smaller supplemental auditorium, then there would be no need to include that in the performing arts center design. It’s important to get recommendations back from the Purple Ribbon Committee before the SPAC’s job is done and the design is completed.”

A task force of the city and the SPAC Foundation is in the latter stages of selecting an architect for the proposed performing arts center, which includes a 2,200-seat main theater and a 300-seat flexible performance space. The Van Wezel seats 1,741.

Vice Mayor Liz Alpert said a two-year window is a more likely scenario for the committee to finish its work.

“I was going to throw out two years just knowing how difficult it is,” Alpert said.  “First we’ve got to find the people and then how often can they really meet with their time constraints. I think your points are good ones as to why make it a year, and if they can get done in a year that would be wonderful, but I don't think they could.”

Applicants will be reviewed by commissioners who will, as a body, appoint members. They will have the latitude to choose among the at-large citizen members an additional person with expertise among the five categories.



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.

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