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Sarasota’s landscape of attractions continues to grow — at a price

Cultural organizations in the Sarasota area are pursuing major projects with only so much philanthropy to go around.

One of the acrylic panels that will allow visitors of the Mote SEA to come face-to-face with sea life.
One of the acrylic panels that will allow visitors of the Mote SEA to come face-to-face with sea life.
Courtesy image
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The depth of Sarasota area’s philanthropic spirit is indisputable, as is its affinity for supporting cultural causes. Its giving capacity, though, is certain to be tested in the coming years as multiple organizations count on the community’s generosity to build several new facilities.

The first phase of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens Master Plan was recently completed with a price tag of $51.6 million. But after raising $57 million, Selby Gardens still needs another $15 million. Selby Gardens’ $92 million capital campaign includes a $20 million endowment.

The Mote Science Education Aquarium is scheduled for completion by the end of 2024 with a location off I-75 at University Town Center, at a cost of $132 million. Mote has raised just more than $100 million, including $20 million from Sarasota County and $5 million from Manatee County tourism tax revenues.

On the bayfront, the Bay Park Conservancy continues its planning for the second phase of The Bay, which at $65 million is fully funded by a combination of public and private dollars. Projected to cost between $175 million and $200 million, The Bay is a public-private venture, with the costs equally shared by local government and the BPC. The BPC still has an unspecified amount to raise for Phase 3.

On one corner of the parking lot at the center of The Bay is the site of the proposed Sarasota Performing Arts Center, also an equally shared public-private investment of an estimated $275 million between local government and private philanthropy under the auspices of the Sarasota Performing Arts Foundation. Should the city decide to go forward with the facility, public funding would be generated by the TIF district surrounding The Bay Park, leaving the foundation to raise between $137.5 million and $150 million. The building would be owned by the city,

Finally, on a smaller scale, The Sarasota Players via its subsidiary, The Stage at Payne Park, is developing plans to renovate and expand Payne Park Auditorium into a community performing arts venue. Plans include entering into a lease for the city-owned building once a plan has met with city approval. With plans to seed a capital campaign with $4 million, the organization formerly known as The Players Center for Performing Arts is seeking any additional $13 million in philanthropy.

Mote Science Education Aquarium

Construction of the $132 million Mote SEA is on schedule for opening by the end of 2024.
Courtesy image


  • A new 110,000-square-foot aquarium, the Mote SEA, located between Nathan Benderson Park and University Town Center
  • More than 1 million gallons of seawater
  • Four-story, ship-inspired architecture

Cost: $132 million

Funding: 95% private philanthropy; $20 million from county tourism tax revenue

Anticipated completion: December 2024

Owner: Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens Master Plan Phases 2 and 3

The walkway at Selby Gardens is seen from the rooftop garden.
Photo by Ian Swaby


  • Hurricane-resilient greenhouse complex to house Selby Gardens’ living collections
  • Learning pavilion with expanded capacity for school programs and enhanced indoor and outdoor classroom space for all ages
  • Restoration of the Payne Mansion, which serves as the Museum of Botany & the Arts
  • Unification of all walking paths throughout the campus
  • Bolstering sea walls surrounding the property and renovation of docks

Cost: $20.4 million

Funding: Private philanthropy

Anticipated construction: To be determined

Owner: The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens Inc.

Sarasota Performing Arts Center (proposed)

The conceptual drawing for The Bay master plan includes a site for a new Sarasota Performing Arts Center, shaded in purple. The shape of the building is not indicative of the final design.
Courtesy image


  • A new 165,000-square-foot performing arts center to be located at The Bay park
  • Architect Renzo Piano Building Workshop selected to design. Contract negations with city underway
  • Proposed 2,100-seat main hall and 300-seat flex performance space

Cost: Estimated $275 million

Funding: 50% private philanthropy and 50% public from tax increment financing district surrounding The Bay park

Anticipated construction: By 2030

Owner: City of Sarasota

The Bay Phase 2

The $20 million Cultural District in The Bay will retain iconic buildings along U.S. 41 and create green spaces.
Courtesy image


  • Canal District: Day docks at 10th Street canal, new canal seawall, food truck area, pedestrian bridge over canal
  • Cultural District: Restoration of buildings along U.S. 41 including Memorial Auditorium, new event lawn, new recreation lawn, event plaza, landscaping
  • Other projects: Sunset Pier, resilient western shoreline

Cost: $65 million

Funding: $48 million TIF-backed city bond, $12 million in state and federal grants, $5 million private philanthropy

Anticipated completion: By 2032-2034

Owner: City of Sarasota

Sarasota Orchestra Music Center

The Sarasota Orchestra plans to build a new music center on the 32-acre parcel at 5701 Fruitville Road.
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  • New 1,800-seat main performance venue at 5701 Fruitville Road
  • A 700-seat flexible space with removable seats for chamber music, cabaret, banqueting and other activities
  • Rehearsal and practice rooms suitable for ensembles of all sizes

Cost: To be determined; the 32-acre site was purchased for $14 million

Funding: Private philanthropy

Anticipated construction: To be determined

Owner: Sarasota Orchestra

The Stage at Payne Park (proposed)

Payne Park Auditorium.
Photo by Andrew Warfield


  • Renovation and expansion of Payne Park Auditorium for use by The Sarasota Players and other smaller community performing arts groups
  • Flexible seating configuration main theater with capacity of 300 seats
  • New restrooms and lobby area
  • Expanded parking lot
  • New back stage and delivery area

Cost: Up to $17 million

Funding: The Sarasota Players, private philanthropy

Anticipated construction: To be determined

Owner: City of Sarasota



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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