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The Players finds a home at Payne Park Auditorium

Sarasota city commissioners authorize staff to craft a lease agreement with The Players Centre for Performing Arts, which hasn't had a permanent home for seven years.

A rendering of exterior renovations at Payne Park Auditorium proposed by The Players Centre for Performing Arts.
A rendering of exterior renovations at Payne Park Auditorium proposed by The Players Centre for Performing Arts.
Courtesy rendering
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The years-long road in the search for a permanent home for The Players Centre for Performing Arts appears to have ended at Payne Park Auditorium. The century-old theater group received the unanimous blessing of the Sarasota City Commission last week to occupy the auditorium and instructed staff to bring back a 10-year lease agreement for consideration.

The Players has been in pursuit of a new home since selling its downtown property in 2016, then in 2018 entered into an agreement Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch to build a $30 million theater complex at Waterside Village. In 2020, The Players vacated its downtown theater and moved performances to a temporary location  in vacant retail space at The Crossings at Siesta on South Tamiami Trail.

Payne Park Auditorium.
Photo by Andrew Warfield

After the Lakewood Ranch plans failed to materialize, in March 2022 the troupe turned its attention to Municipal Auditorium in downtown located within The Bay, the city-owned 53-acre park under development by the Bay Park Conservancy in partnership with the city.

In October 2022, The Players pitched the City Commission on a lease-operating agreement for the Auditorium for $100 per year in exchange for investing $9 million in improvements to the building, operating costs and giving it scheduling control. 

The latter ran afoul of the BPC, which operates facilities within The Bay on behalf of the city, with the exception of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. In October, commissioners instructed staff to work to broker a deal between the two entities, one that never materialized.

During that October 2022 meeting, then-Vice Mayor Kyle Battie floated the idea of leasing Payne Park Auditorium instead, which garnered broad support with the exception of then-Commissioner Hagen Brody, who championed The Players’ Municipal Auditorium ambitions.

“This is how arts and culture die in this community,” Brody said prior to Battie's proposal. "It's by 1,000 paper cuts.”

Brody then supported the concept of The Players occupying Payne Park Auditorium.

The Players proposes a 10-year lease with two subsequent 10-year renewals subject to agreement by both parties. It will pay the city $100 per year plus $1 per ticket sold for each performance. It will pledge an initial $1 million investment for renovations and assume responsibility for all expenses related to capital repairs and replacement, interior and exterior maintenance, utilities, insurance and any taxes. The city will complete repair and replacement of the roof of the structure resulting from Hurricane Ian damage.

Any improvements The Players complete will revert to city ownership at the end of the lease term. The city may determine whether to participate in funding any improvements prior to execution of the lease.

The site map for The Players’ use includes the building plus space around it. 

The Players Centre for Performing Arts proposes its lease for Payne Park Auditorium include the entire shaded area shown on this site map.
Courtesy rendering

“The focus of this initially is the building itself, and then if there were other changes and in the future, those would come back through a major conditional use,” The Players CEO William Skaggs told commissioners. “Part of that is allowing that this space is available for things that we may do outside as well. That would be on our leased property, which would also make it a little easier to operate and not have to come to the city every time we wanted to have a program outdoors.”

Other considerations are additional parking, ADA accessibility, drop-off, etc.

“We haven't had a discussion about parking or anything like that,” said City Manager Marlon Brown, adding that any structural considerations outside of the building will require a major conditional use that would require commission approval.



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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