This week the City of Sarasota, Florida and local not-for-profit Van Wezel Foundation announced the selection of over a dozen firms competing for the opportunity to design a new Sarasota Performing Arts Center in the city’s Bayfront Park.
For the selection, City representatives and members of the Van Wezel Foundation winnowed down an initial list of 43 respondents to 18 firms: Adjaye Associates , Arquitectonica, Diamond Schmitt, Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R), Foster + Partners, Gehry Partners, Henning Larsen, Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, REX, Safdie Architects, Sanaa Jimusho (SANAA), Shigeru Ban Architects, Snøhetta, Steven Holl Architects, Studio Gang, Studios Architecture, and Zaha Hadid Architects.
To further narrow the field, the partners are inviting the public to task force meetings and will solicit further input over six public meetings. A short list of four to six finalists will travel to Sarasota to present their plans to residents. (The selection process is different from a City Council–appointed panel that will make recommendations around the ownership, operation, reuse, and mission of the performing arts center.)
“We are proud to work with our partners at the City of Sarasota on this transformational project,” Van Wezel Foundation CEO Cheryl Mendelson said in a press release. “With the submission of qualifications from these accomplished firms, we now continue the robust review process that moves us closer to the vision of Sarasota as an international destination for the arts. This isn’t just a building. Together, we are building a place for ideas, a place for the arts, a place for you.”
The old arts center was inspired by seashells and designed by Frank Lloyd Wright stepson-in-law and protégé William Wesley Peters of Taliesin Associated Architects, a now defunct firm founded by Wright. The city needs a new Arts Center because Peters’ building is extremely vulnerable to sea level rise. Water incursion has already damaged the 60-year-old Van Wezel Hall’s electrical systems and weakened its concrete. In light of these threats, planning for a new performing arts commenced in 2018, when the Sarasota City Commission okayed a master plan for nearby Bayfront Park that included a new Arts Center. The new Center will also sit seaside but it will be raised out of the flood zone, as well as upgraded with modern theater technology. The chosen design will also add more capacity to the 80,000-square-foot hall, which currently seats just over 1,700 people.
The Van Wezel Foundation will operate the new Sarasota Performing Arts Center as a nonprofit, while the City will own the building.
After an architect is selected next year, the project will move to permitting and construction. If all goes according to plan, Sarasota residents and visitors will be able to take in a show starting in 2028.