18 ‘best of the best’ architectural firms invited to submit proposals for Sarasota Performing Arts Center in The Bay Park

Appointment of ‘Blue Ribbon Committee’ to focus on future of Van Wezel to be discussed during Jan. 3 City Commission meeting

On Dec. 19, almost exactly two weeks before the Sarasota City Commission is scheduled to discuss the appointment of a “Blue Ribbon Committee” to determine the future of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, city staff and the Van Wezel Foundation announced that more than “40 architectural firms from around the world” had submitted applications to design a new Sarasota Performing Arts Center (SPAC).

The latter facility was proposed years ago to replace the Van Wezel. The SPAC would be one of the amenities within The Bay Park in downtown Sarasota.

“The 43 respondents included many well-respected, world-renowned architectural firms,” a news release said.

The task force named earlier this year to select the architectural firm was “charged with narrowing the applicants down to a shortlist of approximately 15 to 20 candidates, who will be invited to respond to a request for proposals (RFP) with the promise of fulfilling this transformative project for Sarasota and the region,” the release pointed out.

The task force comprises three members of the board of directors of the Van Wezel Foundation, plus Mary Bensel, executive director of the Van Wezel, who represents the city.

The 18 firms invited to submit proposals are Adjaye Associates, Arquitectonica, Diamond Schmitt, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Foster + Partners Limited, Gehry Partners LLP, Henning Larsen, Pelli Clarke & Partners, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Rex Architecture P.C., Safdie Architects, Sanaa Jimusho Ltd., Shigeru Ban Architects, Snøhetta, Steven Holl Architects, Studio Gang, Studios Architecture, and Zaha Hadid Limited, the email continued.

Calling the SPAC “a once-in-a-generation project,” City Manager Marlon Brown wrote in the release that those architects “represent the best of the best firms from around the world,” as they have designed “some of the most world-renowned institutions across the globe.” Brown added, “This remarkable response shows how highly regarded the world views Sarasota’s arts and culture as we look to continue to build upon our future as a cherished destination.”

The process of selecting the architect will include six public meetings, the release pointed out. The work will be funded through an appropriation from the State of Florida, the release added. The task force meetings “will culminate in a short list of finalists,” who will be invited to Sarasota to present their qualifications to members of the community, the release said. “This process is separate from the Blue Ribbon panel that will soon be seated by the City Commission to make recommendations regarding viable options for future reuse, purpose, ownership and operation of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall,” the release noted.

In the Dec. 19 announcement, Cheryl Mendelson, CEO of the Van Wezel Foundation, said of the SPAC, “This isn’t just a building. Together, we are building a place for ideas, a place for the arts, a place for you.”

After the Request for Proposals submissions have been received and reviewed, the news release continued, “[T]he task force will meet publicly to winnow the candidates to a pool of approximately 4 to 6 finalists.”

The announcement then invited readers to visit https://vanwezelfoundation.com/ “to learn more about the Sarasota Performing Arts Center Foundation, and http://vwfoundation.org/onpoint/, “to get the facts about the project.”

The Blue Ribbon Committee

The discussion of the Blue Ribbon Committee is listed under the heading of New Business for the City Commission’s first regular meeting of 2023, which will be conducted on Jan. 3, a Tuesday. Since New Year’s Day is on a Sunday, local governments and other entities will observe Jan. 2 as a holiday.

The agenda item notes that the partnership agreement that the city commissioners approved on April 4 with the Van Wezel Foundation — on a 3-2 vote — to work on plans and funding for the proposed new Sarasota Performing Arts Center (SPAC) called for the city to convene the Blue Ribbon Committee within one year of that vote.

During discussions with the city commissioners this spring, Mendelson, the Foundation CEO, stressed that the Van Wezel would not be able to compete with the SPAC for specific types of shows, such as those provided by Broadway on Tour. Instead, she said, the Van Wezel could host community productions — put on by organizations such as the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, for example. (See the related article in this issue.)

The Jan. 3 agenda item reprises her assertion, quoting the April 4 partnership agreement: The Blue Ribbon Committee would have to “ensure that the reuse options do not compete directly with the PAC.”

Moreover, the Agenda Request Form, submitted by City Manager Brown, added this language from the partnership agreement: “SPAC shall not assume costs to renovate the [Van Wezel] and SPAC shall not operate a repurposed Hall.”

The form also indicated that the goal of placing the item on the Jan. 3, 2023 agenda is to allow the city commissioners sufficient time to conduct an initial discussion on the topic before staff drafts a resolution for them to consider. That resolution would provide details about the make-up of the Blue Ribbon Committee, including the number of members and their responsibilities, as well as the timeline in which they should arrive at their recommendations.

The Agenda Request Form adds, “If more time/thought is needed [for the commission] to further discuss, staff can agenda another discussion at a near future City Commission meeting.”

The form does point out, “A Resolution must be brought forward for City Commission consideration no later than April 17, 2023.”