Sarasota Performing Arts Center Foundation receives $10 million for design team work for new facility

Founder of tech company who has seasonal home on Longboat Key provides gift

The Sarasota Performing Arts Center Foundation, previously known as the Van Wezel Foundation, has received a $10-million contribution from the Paul Seed Fund of the international philanthropic network KBF CANADA to help pay for architectural services involving the proposed new Sarasota Performing Arts Center, the Foundation has announced.

“Paul [Seed] is a role model by believing and investing in making a major philanthropic inspirational gift,” said Jim Travers, chair of the Sarasota Performing Arts Center Foundation board, in a news release.

The Foundation announced in late December 2022 that its task force responsible for selecting the architectural firm to design the Sarasota Performing Arts Center (SPAC) has narrowed the applicants to 18. The task force had received interest from 43 firms around the world, the Foundation said.

The goal is to replace the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall with a new, larger facility that would stand in The Bay Park on the City of Sarasota’s 53 acres along the downtown waterfront.

The Foundation news release this week explains that, in London, Ontario, in 1985, “Seed founded, a company specializing in connectivity accessories for IT professionals.” He is responsible for the strategic direction of the company, along with leading the executive leadership team, the release points out.

“An amateur guitarist and lover of live music, Seed purchased a seasonal home in Longboat Key in February of 2021,” the release continues. “He soon became friendly with local musicians who have played at some of [his] own backyard parties,” the release adds. “He also sought out opportunities to engage with the city’s performing arts community, regularly attending music performances at [the] Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall,” the release says.

“Paul took the initiative to set up a donor-advised fund at KBF CANADA … to support this initiative and we are proud to be part of this journey,” said Benoit Fontaine, executive director of KBF CANADA, in the release.

“The arts inspire the human spirit in ways that are hard to articulate,” Seed added in the release. “This [SPAC] project will be transformational for our community and live long past this contribution. I’m honored to have the opportunity to make this early leadership investment to catapult the project forward,” he continued in the release. “I encourage everyone to get involved.”

The Sarasota Performing Arts Center (SPAC) Foundation has committed itself to raising half the money for the new facility, with the majority of the Sarasota City Commission agreeing in April 2022 to cover the other half of the expense.

During a discussion with the commissioners, then-Foundation CEO Cheryl Mendelson and Travers talked of the cost being in the range of $300 million to $350 million. However, then-City Commissioner Hagen Brody speculated that the total could be far higher, based on figures he had seen for similar projects. Nonetheless, Brody voiced strong support for the SPAC.

Early this year, Mendelson resigned her position, with the Foundation issuing a press release saying that she needed to relocate to South Florida for family reasons.

Representatives of the Foundation are expected to be back before the City Commission in April to discuss an implementation agreement with the board members.

Then-Mayor Erik Arroyo and Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch voted against the partnership agreement with the SPAC Foundation last year, citing concerns about the lack of financial details and worries about the city’s being able to shoulder its share of the expense. City Attorney Robert Fournier explained at that time that the commissioners would have the right to request that the Foundation revise its project plans if the expense ended up being so high that the commissioners felt the city could afford its 50% share.

During the April 4, 2022 commission meeting, Fournier said he expected the implementation agreement to include the facility’s cost, as determined by an architect on the basis of the Foundation’s final decisions about the size of the new venue and other facets of its construction.

Moreover, he explained, if the commissioners declined to approve the implementation agreement, no site plan for the SPAC could be submitted to city staff for consideration.

In the meantime, a community effort is underway to garner support for saving the Van Wezel, as the Foundation’s leaders have stressed that if it remained in place on the bayfront, it would not be allowed to host the types of performances that would be considered appropriate for the SPAC. Mendelson had talked about the potential of the Van Wezel’s offering productions that originate with local arts and cultural groups, such as the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe.

In the news release this week about Seed’s contribution, Mayor Kyle Battie was quoted as saying, “On behalf of the Sarasota City Commission, we are beyond grateful to Mr. Seed for the endorsement of this private philanthropic investment in our future.”