Resolution regarding Purple Ribbon Committee that will consider the Van Wezel’s future wins full support of City Commission, following tweaks

Applications for appointment due to city clerk by June 15

It took the Sarasota city commissioners about 40 minutes on May 1 to discuss and then unanimously approve a tweaked resolution regarding a “Purple Ribbon Committee” that will analyze a wide array of aspects related to the future of the city-owned Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

As noted in the resolution, “The Purple-Ribbon Committee shall convene to make recommendations to the City Commission concerning the most viable and financially sustainable options for future use, purpose, ownership, leasing and/or operation of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. The Committee may also discuss and make recommendations as to the extent that use options should or should not be allowed to compete with the proposed new Performing Arts Center.”

The latter reference was to a structure that the former Van Wezel Foundation — known now as the Sarasota Performing Arts Center (SPAC) Foundation — plans to build within The Bay Park in downtown Sarasota.

Applications for appointment to the Purple Ribbon Committee will be due no later than June 15, as noted in the resolution that City Attorney Robert Fournier drafted for review this week. The commissioners agreed on May 1 that the committee will have two years to provide its report to them, so Fournier said he would modify the resolution to make it clear that that two-year term will start after the members are seated.

Fournier indicated during the discussion that he anticipates the appointments to be made in July.

Interested applicants may fill out the online application, which is available at on the city’s Advisory Board webpage, a subsequent city news release said. “Click ‘Ad Hoc Van Wezel Blue Ribbon Committee’ then ‘Apply’ to complete the application,” the release added.

Questions about the Purple Ribbon Committee application process should be directed to the  Office of the City Auditor and Clerk at 941-263-6222 or, the city news release said.

Information about the Sarasota Performing Arts Center is available at, the release noted.

The creation of the committee was stipulated in the April 2022 partnership agreement that the majority of the city commissioners approved with the SPAC Foundation.

Making their cases for slight revisions in the resolution

In early March, the city commissioners agreed to the number of members who would serve on the Purple Ribbon Committee, as well as a set of criteria for the positions. Those criteria are as follows:

  • “One (1) individual with expertise in architecture and also with expertise in the design of performing arts centers and reuse of large public structures and buildings.
  • “One (1) individual with expertise in historical preservation.
  • “One (1) individual with expertise in civil structural engineering.
  • “One (1) individual with financial expertise in the field of the performing arts.
  • “One (1) individual with expertise in climate adaptation.
  • “Two (2) citizen members that are residents of the City of Sarasota.”

Initially, during the May 1 discussion, Commissioner Erik Arroyo asked, “How did we come up with these categories, specifically?” Arroyo added that he was concerned that someone with a pre-conceived position on the future of the Van Wezel might end up on the Purple Ribbon Committee.

City Attorney Fournier reminded Arroyo about the March 6 decisions that the commissioners made in regard to the types of expertise they felt the committee members needed.

City Manager Marlon Brown added, “The commission as a body decides who gets on that committee.” In terms of trying to prevent the appointment of a person who already has a stance on the future of the Van Wezel, Brown emphasized, “I think the commission would have to evaluate that when they get the applications.”

When Arroyo then asked about flexibility to deviate from the criteria, Commissioner Debbie Trice suggested, “I think that if we have more than five excellent experts, that we could use one of those experts” in one of the two citizens’ seats.

Further, Trice said she had talked with Sarasota architect Chris Gallagher about the criteria, and he had suggested that the seat for a person with expertise in climate adaptation also have experience dealing with construction in flood zones so designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The commissioners did change the criteria to include that proposal.

Yet another suggestion Trice made was to substitute “use” for “reuse” in the document.”

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch immediately agreed with Trice on that point.

Then Ahearn-Koch asked City Manager Brown about the resolution’s indication that the city might sell the Van Wezel at some point. “Why would the city not continue to own the Van Wezel?” she asked.

The committee members will determine the best option, he replied. For example, the Van Wezel could be taken over by a nonprofit organization similar to the Bay Park Conservancy, which is in charge of creating and managing The Bay Park and raising private funding for it, he told her.

Yet, the city still owns the park, Ahearn-Koch pointed out.

“That’s up to the commission,” Brown said, in regard to the future ownership or leasing of the Van Wezel. “It’s neither here nor there,” he added.

“I think it’s a big piece of ‘here or there,’ ” she responded.

Brown reminded her that the Sarasota County School Board still owns the original, 1920s-era Sarasota High School structure on U.S. 41 near downtown Sarasota. However, the School Board leases the building to the Ringling College of Art + Design for use as a contemporary art museum and educational facility.

Ahearn-Koch told Brown she did not see why the commissioners would consider selling the Van Wezel.

“It’s up to the City Commission to decide,” he replied.

When Ahearn-Koch asked her colleagues how they felt about that issue, Vice Mayor Liz Alpert told her, “I don’t have a problem leaving ‘ownership’ in [the resolution],” though she said she believes the commission should keep the property. “We don’t want someone else owning that little chunk of land in the middle of the park …”

Still, Alpert continued, she was comfortable with the potential leasing of the Van Wezel to another entity.

Commissioner Trice concurred with Ahearn-Koch about the city’s retaining the ownership.

The only reason “ownership” was in the resolution, City Attorney Fournier pointed out, was because that was included in the April 2022 partnership agreement between the city and the SPAC Foundation.

The applicant pool

Vice Mayor Alpert also talked of her desire not to limit the applicant pool to city residents. “We may not be able to find people in Sarasota with that kind of expertise,” she said. “I think we have to leave that open,” she added, but with the expectation that the commissioners would give preference to individuals who do live in the city.

Ahearn-Koch responded, “This is a city structure on city land.” She told her colleagues, “This group should be people that are residents who take ownership in this project and have experience in the city. I don’t think it’s too much to ask.”

However, Trice pointed out, “I think it is too much to ask that we limit this to city residents in terms of these categories of expertise.” Laughingly, Trice told Ahearn-Koch, “I’m going to fight you on that one.”

Arroyo agreed with Trice and Alpert. “You could live on Longboat Key and you can live on Siesta Key and still have the expertise that we need,” he said.

Mayor Kyle Battie concurred with Alpert, Trice and Arroyo. “Something of this magnitude and this scale … we should involve people from wherever.”

Then Ahearn-Koch proposed that the committee members be Sarasota County residents.

“I still don’t think I want to limit it,” Alpert replied. “I want to make sure we have the right people for this.”

“I think we should have the best of the best,” Battie added.

Alpert also made the proposal to allow the committee members two years to complete their work.

Finally, with Alpert having recited the proposed changes she and her colleagues had discussed, Arroyo made the motion to approve the resolution with those modifications:

  • “Reuse” would be changed to “use.”
  • The committee member with climate adaptation experience also should have experience with construction in FEMA-designated floodplains.
  • The commissioners will have the discretion to make a final determination about the appointments in terms of the individuals’ expertise.

In response to a question from Arroyo, City Attorney Fournier said that the board members could modify the criteria at any point in the process.

Trice noted that, if June 15 arrives and applications have not been received from persons with all of the enumerated areas of expertise, the commissioners could change the criteria then.

“You have the inherent authority to do that,” Fournier said.

  • References to ownership should be changed to make clear the commission would be willing to lease the Van Wezel to an organization.
  • The committee will have two years to complete its work and provide its recommendations to the commissioners.

Alpert seconded Arroyo’s motion, and then it passed 5-0.