Renzo Piano selected to design new Sarasota Performing Arts Center

A Shore Choice

Renzo Piano selected to design new Sarasota Performing Arts Center

A new Sarasota Performing Arts Center would replace the city’s current theater the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. (Clyde Robinson/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Last week, the Sarasota Performing Arts Foundation announced Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW) as the designer of the Performing Arts Center at The Bay. RPBW was chosen for the job after a comprehensive solicitation process that started last October, with 43 firms submitting qualifications to be considered for the project.

The forthcoming performing arts center in Sarasota will be built on the campus of the new Bay Park, which is situated on the site of a parking lot used by the existing Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. The Van Wezel is recognizable for its bright pink exterior and its marine- and nautical-inspired forms. The building was the vision of Frank Lloyd Wright’s stepson-in-law and protégé William Wesley Peters of Taliesin Associated Architects, a now defunct firm founded by Wright. A new performing arts center was proposed for the site given the threat of sea level rise to the Van Wezel, and its state of disrepair.

With the location of the new center also in close proximity to Sarasota Bay, it will be designed with flood resiliency in mind and raised out of the flood zone. In addition to updated stage and performing arts technology, the new facility will house a 2,100-seat main theater, a 300-seat flexible performance space, and 165,000 square feet that could be used for educational programming and hosting events.

As for what happens to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center still remains to be seen. The city, which owns the facility, has looked into continuing its usefor performances. Members of the Van Wezel Foundation worked with Sarasota city officials on plans for the new performance center in light of a campaign by the Van Wezel grandchildren to keep the existing facility operating.

The list of 43 submissions was whittled down to 18 in December, each of which were invited to submit to a Request for Proposals. That shortlist was cut again with the announcement of six semi-finalists, including RPBW, Snøhetta, Foster + Partners, Gehry Partners, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Henning Larsen.

Last month, the pool of notable architects was further winnowed to four finalists: RPBW, Snøhetta, Foster + Partners, and Gehry Partners. (Gehry Partners elected to not to move forward.) The three finalist firms were invited to Sarasota on May 31 to give public presentations on their ideas for the new arts center, and for interviews with the Architect Selection Task Force, formed by three Foundation board members and a city-appointed representative, chaired by Dr. Jenne K. Britell, vice-chair of the Foundation board.

During the final deliberation the task-force voted 3-1 for RPBW, with the sole vote against cast for Foster + Partners.

“Our rigorous review process to select the architect for the new Performing Arts Center is a reflection of our unwavering commitment to position Sarasota as a top-tier arts destination,” Britell said in a press release.

“The arts have the magic and the power to transform lives and communities at every level. In their work and presentation, Renzo Piano Building Workshop reflected extraordinary vision and sensitivity to a range of issues that we believe best suited the project and could create something our community celebrates for generations to come.”

Sarasota and RPBW must now enter a period of contract negotiations that could take several months. If this falls through, as the second choice, Foster + Partners will be offered the project, subject to contract negotiations.

The new performing arts center could cost $275 million to $300 million, with funds coming in from private donations, grants, and tax increment finance revenues from the area surrounding The Bay.