Letter: The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and a new Sarasota Performing Arts Center

City of Sarasota and Van Wezel Foundation Logos.

Dear Friend,

You may have received one or more emails or received a website link encouraging you to sign a petition to “Keep the Van Wezel.” These emails are not from the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, the Van Wezel Foundation, or City of Sarasota. The individual or individuals soliciting signatures do not represent us and we disagree with their assertions. We all agree that Sarasota needs and deserves a new, state-of-the-art performing arts center on The Bay Park and the current Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall cannot be upgraded to meet the needs of the ever-growing community’s demands or host modern Broadway shows. At no time has the City, the Hall or the Foundation suggested that the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall be torn down.

The City engaged national and international advisors to conduct a thorough study regarding the Hall’s feasibility in remaining a competitive contemporary performing arts center for the region. Based on the results of this study, in 2018, the City Commission approved a Master Plan to develop the 53 acres of the Bay Park, including a new contemporary performing arts center. The City intends to continue operating the Hall until any new performing arts center is operational, at which time the City will determine the best long-term use for the Hall. The City will convene a blue ribbon panel beginning discussions in early January for this purpose.

For 35 years, the City of Sarasota, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and the Van Wezel Foundation have enjoyed a thriving cultural partnership providing quality performing arts and arts education to the community. During this time the Van Wezel Foundation has provided underwriting support for presentations, productions, and educational programs featured at the Hall and contributions for necessary improvements for the Hall. Until any new performing arts center is operational, the Van Wezel Foundation will continue to share its mission-driven work to provide support for the Hall.

In 2018 the partnership entered into a new era when the City asked the Foundation to partner in the creation of a sustainable, national model for the performing arts, anchored by a venue that integrates arts education and broad community engagement. The Foundation committed to lead a multimillion-dollar capital fundraising campaign for a new performing arts center at the heart of the Bay Park envisioned in the Master Plan and because of your generous support, we’re well on our way.

On April 4, 2022, the City’s and Foundation’s partnership role expanded further when the Sarasota City Commission approved the execution of a partnership agreement for the planning, financing, design, and construction of the new Sarasota Performing Arts Center. In this public private partnership, one half of the budgeted funding for the building will be funded by philanthropy and one half by government funding (state, federal and local). The Tax Increment Funding approved by the City and County in 2015 to fund the Bay Park and new performing arts center is currently estimated to pay 80% of the public portion of the building with remaining public funds coming from state and federal funding sources. The City will not raise taxes to fund the new center. Private philanthropy for the center began earlier this year with a $20M commitment from the Foundation Board.

An independent economic impact study has been conducted and will be shared publicly in January. The new center will create over 5,000 jobs during construction and after opening, the center is projected to have an annual $32 million dollar economic impact in the community.

The architect selection process is currently underway using an open public procurement process with community engagement and collaboration. This process creates an exciting opportunity for the community to come together, learn more about the new center and provide input. On February 27, 2023, the City and Foundation are tentatively scheduled to host a town hall to answer questions and share information about the existing Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and the new Sarasota Performing Arts Center. Details will be forthcoming.

By the time the door opens in the new Sarasota Performing Arts Center in 2028, we hope that everyone will appreciate the cultural power of the performing arts and the social, economic and reputational value this new venue will bring to our region.

We invite you to join us in this opportunity of a lifetime to make Sarasota’s new and inclusive performing arts center a reality. You can take pride in supporting a powerful vision. A Place for the Arts. A Place for Ideas. A Place for you.

Together in the arts,

Kyle Battie, Mayor

Marlon Brown, City Manager

Mary Bensel, Executive Director Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall

Jim Travers, Chairman Van Wezel Foundation

Cheryl Mendelson, Chief Executive Officer

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