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Letter to the Editor

Case for a new performing arts center is clear

A reader writes that the success of "Hamilton" in Sarasota highlights the need for a new performing arts center.

  • By
  • | 11:00 a.m. April 16, 2024
  • Sarasota
  • Opinion
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The recent conclusion of the outstanding production of "Hamilton" in Sarasota highlighted our community's strong appreciation for top-tier cultural events. With a reported nearly 27,000 enthusiastic attendees filling 15 sold-out performances, the demand for such experiences is clear.

Sarasota had to wait nine years to bring "Hamilton" here, since its Broadway debut in 2015. The delay in bringing such celebrated productions to Sarasota largely stems from economic challenges. Yes, arts are about money too. 

Theater authorities agree on the necessity of a larger venue with 2,400 seats or more to ensure financial viability. Unfortunately, the Van Wezel has 1,741 seats — its size being the key limiting factor in spreading the significant fixed cost of bringing these types of sophisticated and more expensive shows to town. The numbers simply do not work.

Ironically, just days before Hamilton performances began, the Bay Park Improvement Board, responsible for overseeing a large and growing tax fund earmarked specifically for The Bay Park and new performing arts center, failed to act. 

Despite the city and county's interlocal agreement in place, awareness of the Van Wezel's limitations, and anticipation of "Hamilton's" success as an example, the board missed the opportunity to approve a logical next step for a new performing arts center: authorizing that funds available could be considered for the retention of the architectural firm identified last year. This is a missed opportunity and could risk stalling progress on the new performing arts center, needlessly postponing crucial steps.

Prompt action is both wise and necessary. The performing arts center serves not only as a source of entertainment but also as an educational event venue for our entire community, attracting a younger demographic to Sarasota. Without more prompt action, there is a risk of missing out on the momentum for a new performing arts center, losing support from the public and other stakeholders and facing higher costs.

Building a new center might take five years or more, and during that time, the Van Wezel will remain in use. It's time to multitask; we can both work on securing a new center and consider the repurposing of the Van Wezel. The Purple Ribbon Committee is diligently working on this.

Investing in a new performing arts center is important to maintaining Sarasota's position as a regional cultural hub and sustaining its vibrancy and financial resilience. It's time for our city and county leaders to prioritize the Sarasota area’s cultural future by recognizing the significance of the new performing arts center as a valuable regional asset. Bay Park Improvement Board, city and county commissioners, and city staff — the time for action is now!

— David Lough, Sarasota


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