Task force members who will select architect for proposed Sarasota Performing Arts Center named

Goal is to have design firm on board by spring 2023

The Van Wezel Foundation has announced the members of the task force that has been charged with recommending the architect who will design the proposed Sarasota Performing Arts Center (SPAC).

That facility has been proposed to replace the Van Wezel as part of the plans for The Bay Park in downtown Sarasota.

Further, the Foundation notes its expectation that construction of the new venue will begin in 2025, with the facility’s opening following in 2028.

The chair of the group is Jenne K. Britell, who is vice chair of the Van Wezel Foundation Board of Directors. The retired chair of United Rentals, Britell also is a director of the Ocwen Financial Corp. and Zenbusiness.com, according to her biography on the Foundation’s SPAC webpages. Additionally, Britell is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the advisory board of the Smithsonian Institution’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation.

The other members are as follows:

  • Mark Famiglio, who has been “involved with real estate, construction, finance, information technology, aviation, and biologics,” his biography says. He also serves as chair of the Sarasota Film Festival.
  • Michelle J. Hooper, president and CEO of The Directors’ Council, “which consults with major companies on board effectiveness and corporate board of director recruitment,” especially in regard to diverse candidates, her biography notes. She is a member of the boards of directors of UnitedHealth Group, as lead independent director, and United Airlines, in which capacity she chairs the Audit Committee.
  • Mary Bensel, who has served as executive director of the City of Sarasota’s Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall for more than 14 years.
  • Larry Thompson, who has been the president of Ringling College of Art + Design since 1999.

The Paratus Group, based in New York City, will manage the selection process, the Foundation’s webpages further note.

“Founded in 1997,” the webpages say, the Paratus Group “provides cultural and institutional clients with a comprehensive approach to planning and executing exceptional building projects.” The firm’s approach, the webpages continue, calls for balancing “three components at all phases of development”: the programming of the facility, construction costs and total project cost.

Additionally, the firm HR&A will handle economic development and financial consulting for the undertaking, the webpages point out. “HR&A acts as a critical intermediary between the development community and local government by providing credible third-party analysis, facilitating the approvals process, and crafting innovative approaches to zoning and incentives,” the webpages add.

Six public meetings of the task force have been planned in accord with city regulations and the state’s open meetings law, the webpages note. The final meeting is when the group is expected to make its recommendation for the architect, the webpages add.

The state has awarded the Foundation $990,000 to pay for the selection process and the Sarasota Performing Arts Center design concept, the Foundation also points out. All of those funds must be spend by June 30, 2023, the webpages note. Thus, the tentative timeline calls for the task force to wrap up its work in March 2023.

Then, in an Oct. 26 email blast, Cheryl Mendelson, CEO of the Van Wezel Foundation, announced that the City of Sarasota will issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the architectural services, “to attract national interest from a broad and diverse number of respondents.”

The orientation meeting for the task force will take place on Oct. 31, Mendelson added.

The Oct. 26 email blast also quoted Sarasota City Manager Marlon Brown: “This is a once-in-a-generation project for the City of Sarasota and as such, the most accomplished and experienced professionals were included in the architect selection process.” He added, “This group understands how important a new performing arts center is to the legacy of Sarasota.”

The partnership with the City of Sarasota

In early April, the Van Wezel Foundation won approval from the majority of the Sarasota city commissioners on its proposed partnership agreement for the creation of the new Sarasota Performing Arts Center (SPAC). The vote was 3-2, with Mayor Erik Arroyo and Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch dissenting.

The agreement calls for the city to pay for 50% of the expense of the new facility, with the Foundation pledging to raise the remainder.

As an attorney, Arroyo said he would not have allowed one of his clients to sign such a document, given the lack of details in it — including the overall cost of the SPAC.

Foundation representatives have said that they expect the total to be in the range of $300 million to $350 million. However, Commissioner Hagen Brody noted how much similar venues in the United States cost — including one in Miami — in suggesting the overall expense could be much higher.

Yet, the Foundation’s SPAC webpages say the facility could cost as little as $275 million; the higher estimate is $300 million. “That figure includes all aspects of planning, design, development, permitting, construction, and equipping the center,” the webpages explain.

During the April 4 commission meeting, Ahearn-Koch voiced worries about how the city would pay for its share of the SPAC. In a follow-up discussion during the board’s April 18 meeting, she cited the potential of high surcharges on tickets to performances at the Van Wezel to help cover the city’s share.

The City and Sarasota County commissions are bound in an interlocal agreement that is raising funds for the 53-acre Bay Park from a tax-increment financing district that comprises area around the park, not just the city’s waterfront land. (See the related article in this issue.) City Manager Marlon Brown has pointed out that city leaders already have committed themselves to using $50 million out of the revenue from that district to pay back bonds the city would issue to cover its share of the cost.

City Finance Director Kelly Strickland told the city commissioners on April 4 that ticket sales revenue and fees for rentals of rooms in the SPAC also could be used to pay off a revenue bond. However, she also pointed out, if the city were unable to make a bond debt payment out of such funds, then the city would have no choice but to use non-ad valorem revenue — such as sales tax income — to plug the gap.

The Foundation’s webpages point out that the city will not assess its residents for any of the facility’s expense. “Public funding sources identified by the city — with the counsel of independent economic development advisors” — are as follows, the webpages continue:

  • The tax-increment financing mechanism — 80%.
  • State and federal grants — 8%.
  • Bonds pegged to surcharges on tickets — 5%.
  • Penny sales tax revenue — 4%. However, voters first must approve renewal of Sarasota County’s fourth penny sales tax — or, surtax — program. A referendum is on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot. If that fails, the county will have one more opportunity to gain voter approval — in November 2024 — before the current Surtax Program ends on Dec. 31, 2024.
  • “Other Available Public Funding Vehicles,” the webpages say — 2%.

More new details from the Foundation

In her Oct. 13 email blast, Mendelson of the Van Wezel reported, “This week, we launched our OnPoint campaign, a FAQ and digital campaign that answers common questions about the new Sarasota Performing Arts Center. OnPoint is a resource for the community to learn the facts, share in the progress, and celebrate the benefits that a new state-of-the-art performing arts center will bring to Sarasota and the region.”

She added, “Our goal is to keep you informed of the facts and to answer your questions with complete transparency. We look forward to ongoing community engagement and feedback throughout this exciting process to build a civic asset that will be a place for ideas, a place for the arts, and a place for you.”

The OnPoint webpages explain that the Foundation “conducted two community engagement surveys” — in 2018 and 2020 — “to gauge the public’s opinion of and desires for the [SPAC]. More than 18,000 community members responded and their aspirations have shaped our strategic plan.”

As Mendelson has noted during presentations to the City Commission, preliminary plans call for a 2,200-seat main stage, including one or more aisles; a 300-seat flexible space; spaces for educational sessions, including lifelong learning opportunities; multiple outdoor public performance spaces; and technology “that will allow performances to be simulcast into [The Bay Park].”

The Van Wezel’s website says its auditorium contains 1,741 seats. In contrast, the Straz Center in Tampa, which traditionally has been seen as the Van Wezel’s primary competition, has 2,610 seats in its primary auditorium, the Carol Morsani Hall, its website notes. The Straz “easily accommodates major Broadway productions, operas, ballets and orchestral concerts,” that facility’s website says.

As for parking at the SPAC: The consulting firm Tindale Oliver has recommended that 1,000 spaces will be necessary for the SPAC. “The need will be met through a combination of 600 surface parking spaces across Bay Park, a limited number of spaces beneath the performing arts center itself, and an abundance of offsite parking locations within walking distance,” the OnPoint webpages explain.

Additionally, City Commission discussion has focused on shuttle services that would convey people from off-site parking areas to the facility. “The city is working with private entities to address additional parking,” the webpages say.

In response to a question about how the SPAC will “be more than a building,” the webpages note that it will create more than 5,000 jobs over five to seven years; it will generate “new career opportunities for the arts & culture industry”; it will drive “commerce year-round to local businesses,” such as hotels, restaurants and retail shops; and it will “[a]nchor Sarasota as a national destination for cultural tourism.”

1 thought on “Task force members who will select architect for proposed Sarasota Performing Arts Center named”

  1. At the Bayfront Park celebration last weekend, i spoke to a spokesman for the new Performing Arts Center. He was unaware that the Sarasota Orchestra had performances at Van Wezel–he thought they just used Holly Hall.
    How much more don’t the planners and marketers for the new center know?
    The ignorance of such an important user of the space is frightening.

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