Sarasota Commissioners Approve Partnership for New $350 Million Performing Arts Center

Future plans for a new performing arts center that is expected to be a world-class facility located in Sarasota Bay promise to transform the city’s waterfront, but some fear the price tag could break the bank.

“That’s half a billion dollars that city taxpayers like me will have to pay,” said Dan Lobeck, a Sarasota resident and attorney.

Lobeck worries that Price will leave town and the locals will sing the blues.

“If you’re going to buy a car, you want to know how much it costs and how you’re going to pay for it before you sign the contract. If a friend is going to pay half the money, you probably want that up front,” Lobeck said. . .

The Sarasota City Commission has just approved a contract with the Van Wezel Foundation. It says the city will fund 50% of the total construction cost. The Van Wezel Foundation would fund the other half through private donors.

“It’s not something we necessarily have to deal with, but a future commission and a future city manager. But it’s a lot of money. It’s over $150 million,” Mayor Erik Arroyo said. .

Mayor Arroyo and Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch wanted to move forward with the plans but had hoped for a good faith agreement without the plans being legally binding.

“It was a bit rushed,” Ahearn-Koch said.

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The city said the funds would likely come from tourist tax and other means like a tax liability. The bond would come from people buying tickets for shows. Commissioner Ahearn-Koch worries that if there isn’t enough revenue to pay the bond, residents could end up suffering if city services have to be cut to pay the bill.

“On my side, there were only certain areas where I couldn’t engage citizens without more clarity,” Ahearn-Koch said.

The Van Wezel Foundation requested confidence from the commission and the commissioners granted it by a vote of three to two.

“We are actively looking for ways to continue to achieve our mission and build a flexible performing arts center that can meet the needs of the next 50 years,” explained Van Wezel Foundation CEO Cheryl Mendelson.

With an estimated price tag of over $350 million, some would say, that’s a lot of confidence.

“Everyone wants improvement. Everyone wants progress, but at what cost and for what,” Lobeck said.