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Sarasota Orchestra Will Not Be Moving To Payne Park

a marker at Payne Park in Sarasota
Sarasota City Government
On Monday night, the Sarasota City Commission voted against granting the orchestra's request to make Payne Park its new home.

It's back to the drawing board for the Sarasota Orchestra.

Monday night, the Sarasota City Commission voted down the art organization's proposal to build a new 2,500 seat concert hall on seven acres of city-owned Payne Park.

Representatives from the orchestra presented an update on their vision to the city at the meeting and were seeking permission to conduct feasibility studies on their plan.

Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin prefaced the discussion by noting that the city valued its 70-year relationship with the Sarasota Orchestra.

“The orchestra has become one of the foundations and pillars of our very strong arts and entertainment culture, which goes a great way to enhancing our quality of life and local economy,” he said.

The Sarasota Orchestra currently performs at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center on Sarasota Bay, but orchestra leaders want to build a performance space specifically designed for its acoustics and to expand programming.

Since its initial pitch to the city commission in February, the proposed move sparked a fiery public debate. Those against the plan said a concert hall would reduce greenspace, harm wildlife and increase traffic. The new building would also have required relocating the popular Payne Park Tennis Center.

Those for the construction of the music facility viewed it as an opportunity to add a cultural component to the 39-acre downtown park.

Credit Preserve Payne Park
The children's playground at Payne Park in downtown Sarasota

More than 100 people came out in support and opposition of the proposal at Monday night’s meeting.

Sarasota resident Arthur Thompson said he's a fan of the Sarasota Orchestra, but not of them building a concert facility in Payne Park.

“I voted for the local option sales tax that funded the project to build the park and now I struggle to understand why you are considering giving part of it away,” he said. “Our residents want and keep voting for more park space and not less."

But Susan Heinz, a Sarasota County music teacher, said the orchestra and Payne Park would make for a good match.

"Whether it be with a pre-concert stroll on a walking path or a musical pause after a game of Frisbee on the green,” she said. “Before us now, we have an opportunity to join music and nature together and I am so excited by the possibilities."

The vote was 4-1 against the orchestra’s Payne Park proposal.  Sarasota Mayor Liz Alpert was the sole vote in favor. Orchestra officials say they will regroup and move on to considering other locations. 

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