Let the Van Wezel play a starring role in Sarasota’s future


“The game is the thing. Where I’ll catch the king’s conscience,” thought Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

When it comes to parks and arts, recreation and nature, people and places, community and communities, the play is certainly what unites our beautiful, diverse and unique city by the Sarasota Bay.

If everyone’s a stage and we’re just players, then Sarasota’s curtain is about to unfold with the long-awaited grand opening of Phase 1 of The Bay’s transformation from parking lot to oasis. green/blue that this community aspires to. have.

Can’t wait to see the kids enjoy the amazing Ibis themed play area, and can’t wait to see the people take a stroll in the park or paddle on the bay. After years of pandemic-enforced social distancing, it’s wonderful that we’re soon to see the causeway transform into a park.


The Sarasota City Commission recently approved a $48 million exploration bond against future earmarked taxes for phase two of The Bay project. What exactly is in the phase two plan? This remains unclear – it does not include, for example, the planned multi-level parking garage that would allow the stretch of asphalt to become green space.

Meanwhile, in March, in a split vote that was reached without any financial or market analysis — and without due diligence as to community needs, funding, or will — the city commission approved a preliminary deal with the Van Wezel Foundation to replace the iconic Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, a facility that embodies Sarasota’s artistic and architectural identity.

This hasty decision was in reaction to the announcement by the Sarasota Orchestra that it had purchased the cow pasture on Fruitville near Interstate 75 to build the large music hall it had once proposed for Payne Park. This venue will compete for tours and serve as a permanent home for the now regional orchestra.

In any logical world, the Sarasota Orchestra’s decision would have put an end to talk of possibly replacing the Van Wezel on the waterfront, if only to avoid hurting fundraising efforts. and booking our own orchestra.

We already compete with the Straz Center in Tampa, which is the largest performing arts venue in the Southeastern United States. The truth is, no matter how big the performance hall we build, we’ll never surpass Tampa in attract first– run shows like “Hamilton”.

That’s why there’s no reason to throw away our existing Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, which has a unique organic shell-like shape designed by the same structural architect behind the Guggenheim and the Fallingwater House. It is possible that this structural design enabled the Van Wezel to withstand Hurricane Ian as the Venice theater was destroyed by it.

Van Wezel’s architect, William Wesley Peters, was Frank Lloyd Wright’s son-in-law and longtime Taliesin associate – and Wright’s widow chose the distinctive purple color that is a landmark of Sarasota’s organic architecture .

If our community leaders listened to the people of Sarasota – and played along with them – we would abandon the misguided idea of ​​replacing the Van Wezel. And we would leverage the obvious generosity of the performing arts philanthropists of the Van Wezel Foundation to:

  • Consolidate the Van Wezel against sea level rise.
  • Raising funds to replace the Venice Theatre.
  • Renovate the Art Deco City Auditorium at the Bayfront or the Sarasota School Auditorium in Payne Park for the Players Center and other local performing arts groups.

The community that plays together stays together. Let’s play, Sarasota!

Kelly Franklin is an advocate for local public parks.


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