Designers of Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and Lincoln Center in New York among semi-finalists vying to create Sarasota Performing Arts Center

Task force to winnow group to three in May

The Sarasota Performing Arts Center Architect Selection Task Force has selected six semi-finalists out of 18 applicants who were invited to submit proposals to design the proposed Sarasota Performing Arts Center (SPAC), the City of Sarasota has announced.

The SPAC has been planned to replace the City of Sarasota’s Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. The new, larger facility would stand on the city’s Bayfront Park in downtown Sarasota.

The six architectural firms chosen to advance in the process are as follows: Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Foster + Partners Limited, Gehry Partners LLP, Henning Larsen, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, and Snøhetta.

“We are fortunate to have such a distinguished field of semi-finalists,” a March 3 city newsletter said.

Three of the task force members, as noted on the SPAC Foundation’s website, also are directors of the SPAC Foundation. They are Jenne K. Britell, Mark Famiglio, and Michele Hooper. The fourth member is Mary Bensel, the executive director of the Van Wezel.

In researching the six semi-finalists, The Sarasota News Leader reviewed projects that each has designed.

Diller Scofidio + Renfro of New York City is the firm behind the High Line and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, both in that city; the David M. Rubenstein Forum at the University of Chicago; and the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts at Brown University in Providence, R.I., as its website shows.

The Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, the Apple Park Visitor Center in Cupertino, Calif., and the Imperial War Museum in London are among the projects of Foster + Partners Limited of London, as depicted on its website.

Gehry Partners, based in Los Angeles, is known for a number of iconic buildings, as Architectural Digest has pointed out. Among them are the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, and the Dancing House in Prague, Czech Republic.

Among the projects of the Henning Larsen firm of Copenhagen have been the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland; Cockle Bay Park in Sydney, Australia; and The Biotope in Lille, France.

On its website, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, which is based in Genoa, Italy, showcases a number of projects it has completed in Europe. Those include the Campus Nord Politecnico Di Milano, the Genoa City Tunnel, the Watefront Di Livante, and the Orto Rampante (“climbing garden”). The firm also designed the CERN Science Gateway Building in Switzerland.

Finally, Snohetta, which is based in Oslo, Norway, features a variety of projects on its website. Among them is the Westchester Square Library in New York City, the Esbjerg Maritime Center – The Lantern in Denmark, the Pavilia Farm in Hong Kong, and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra Expansion in Missouri.

In December 2022, the SPAC news release points out, the task force received applications from 43 architectural firms from around the world.

With the list of architectural firms having been winnowed, the release adds, the Task Force will meet in May to narrow the six semi-finalists to three. “Those finalists will be invited to Sarasota to present their ideas and vision for a new performing arts center that will serve as a hub for innovation, inspiration and entertainment for generations to come,” the release points out.

However, as noted in a March 6 discussion this week, the Sarasota city commissioners have yet to approve a formal implementation agreement with the SPAC Foundation. That is expected to include a more refined cost estimate of the project, for which the commissioners agreed last year to pay half, provided they believed the city could afford the undertaking. (See the related article in this issue.)

City Attorney Robert Fournier has explained that the commissioners would have the right to tell the Foundation to scale back the project if they felt the expense would be too high for the city to bear. Leaders of the Foundation talked of a range between $300 million and $350 million when they met with the commissioners in the spring of 2022.

The process of selecting the architect for the SPAC is being covered by a $990,000 State of Florida appropriation that the Foundation received last year, the release adds. All of that money must be spent by June 30, the Foundation points out.

More information about the SPAC project is available at, the release notes.