The Bay Park, a community led initiative, is set to transform 53 acres in downtown Sarasota into a world class public park. Conversations about The Bay Park have centered around the importance of its guiding principles, two of which are activation and aspiration. Today, you can feel the energy already in motion as the park celebrated the opening of the first phase of the larger vision for the master plan.
The new performing arts center is a critical center piece of the master plan and one that was proposed from the community visioning process. The park along with the new performing arts center can be seen as dance partners complimenting each other and drawing off each other’s energy. One without the other would create a lesser performance.
There is certainly no shortage of opinions about a new performing arts center, and in turn what the City of Sarasota should do with the existing Van Wezel Hall. However, it is clear to me that a new facility is critical to provide the audience experience, technology, and resiliency we need for the future of performing arts, and one we want to keep anchored in the heart of Downtown Sarasota.
Concerns about change are ever present. One only needs to think back to the angst about plans for the Ringling Bridge, which is now an iconic part of the city’s landscape.
With change comes opportunity and we have before us an incredible opportunity to build a first-class performing arts center that will enhance our city and provide another crown jewel for our community for the next 50-plus years. As for the expense, half is being contributed through private philanthropy and most of the public funding will be tied to incremental tax revenue. Therefore, taxpayers will not be footing the bill with additional taxes due to this project.
Taking all this in consideration, wouldn’t you say, “Yes, let’s do it?”
The opportunity to continue to transform the new Bay Front is before us now. I believe, just like the initial concerns over the Ringling Bridge, once the new performing arts center is complete, fears over the process will fade and the passion for what has been created will be on display as one of the proud moments of accomplishment we can all celebrate as a community.
Drayton Saunders is president of Michael Saunders & Company and a member of the Van Wezel Foundation board of directors.