Sarasota Orchestra hums along with planning its new $14 million home
After a long, yet ultimately unsuccessful, search for a home downtown, the Sarasota Orchestra makes progress on what will be its new facility 6 miles east.
| 5:00 a.m. December 25, 2023
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After spending $14 million for a vacant 32-acre site earlier in 2023, the Sarasota Orchestra continues to make progress on its plan to relocate east of downtown.
Planned features for the site at 5701 Fruitville Road, just west of Interstate 75, include an 1,800-seat concert hall to specifically showcase acoustic music; a 700-seat flexible-use performance space; multiple rehearsal and practice rooms; music storage; and office space.
At the time of the transaction, Sarasota Orchestra President and CEO Joe McKenna said the process could take five years, from the beginning of the design process to seating patrons for a live performance. In line with those expectations, the Orchestra has taken the first steps toward being ready to start construction.
“The Orchestra has been focusing primarily on pre-work and pre-design project elements with its consultants,” says Sarah Kelliher, a public relations strategist for the Orchestra. “This has included sound measurements/assessments on the site, stakeholder meetings to update and finalize community needs, site preparation and more.”
One of those pre-work partners is Stage Consultants, which has worked on premier music venues across the globe, including the Harpa concert hall in Reykjavik, Iceland, and the Oakridge Centre in Vancouver, Canada. “If you drove by the Fruitville Road location in August, you may have seen Stages at work,” the Orchestra explained in a recent news release about its progress.
Another early focus is on water management and accumulation. Back at the time of the purchase, the Orchestra said it envisioned leveraging about 12 acres for water features and natural areas.
Beyond some of those internal goals, when leaders from the Orchestra talk about their vision for the new site, the language goes beyond regional. “The Music Center will invigorate Sarasota’s cultural brand while propelling our educational, social, and economic vibrancy as one of the most exciting cultural communities in the country,” the organization has said through its website.
When completed, the new facility will be one of only four concert halls for acoustic music in Florida, and the first on the Gulf Coast, joining New World Center in Miami Beach, Knight Concert Hall in Miami and Steinmetz Hall in Orlando. And the building’s planned height is significant enough to require a conditional rezoning.
By moving east — the new site is just more than six miles away from its current primary venue on Sarasota Bay, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall — the Orchestra expects to broaden its local impact. "It really is the crossroads of the Sarasota-Manatee region as we look out over the next 25, 50 and 75 years,” says McKenna. Indeed, the new location is near the growing University Town Center area west of I-75 and Fruitville Commons, which is just east of the interstate and south of Lakewood Ranch.
“We're really excited at the prospect of a music center for the region that would be home to the orchestra, but also provide space for other music organizations in particular that are so in need of both rehearsal space and performance space,” McKenna says.
Currently the orchestra is using six venues in order to put together its annual schedule. McKenna says owning and controlling its own facility will allow it to prioritize its schedule while still accommodating other music organizations.
“The orchestra is a highly collaborative enterprise. That won't change,” McKenna says. “We know that there are other music organizations that need performance space and others that might even need rehearsal space. This makes it more efficient to have an acoustical environment that's designed for music and then to really have that calendar flexibility. Our community has evolved and there's a need for a new venue like this.”
This story was updated to reflect that the new Orchestra facility is east of downtown Sarasota.