The Van Wezel Foundation (Foundation) is a nonprofit that was established in 1987 to partner with the city of Sarasota to support arts education and special initiatives at the city-owned Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall (Hall). 

In 2018, the Sarasota City Commission approved the Bay Park Master Plan with a new performing arts center. The Foundation is leading the vision to build the new Sarasota Performing Arts Center as a public-private partnership with the city and in collaboration with the Bay Park Conservancy and the Hall.

The city’s Climate Adaptation Plan identified the 50-year-old Hall as the city’s most vulnerable structure, sitting in a high-risk flood zone. FEMA compliance codes preclude renovations of the Hall as structural modifications exceed more than 50% of the building’s value. Therefore, a new state-of-the-art center, including technological advances and multiple performance spaces, will be built to provide a competitive advantage to attract world-class artists and serve the community and beyond year-round.

The Hall is owned and operated by the city of Sarasota; the city is establishing a blue-ribbon commission to determine the path forward for the existing Hall.

The existing Hall was built on the bay fostering a relationship with the performing arts and the city. To continue with that cultural history and create a new world-class performing arts center, this site, at the heart of Sarasota’s definitive Bay Park Redevelopment, is the best home for the new Sarasota Performing Arts Center.  

  • 200,000 square-foot venue committed to universal design and accessibility
  • 2,250-seat main stage including center aisle(s)
  • 400-seat flexible performance space
  • Education and lifelong learning spaces including classrooms, rehearsal and community meeting spaces
  • Multiple outdoor public performance spaces
    National model for advanced technology for health and safety post-pandemic

A parking study commissioned by the city and conducted by Tindale Oliver recommended the need for 1,000 parking spaces to serve the future performing arts center. The Foundation is collaborating with the City and the Bay Park Conservancy to identify a variety of ways to meet this need through a combination of surface parking spaces within the Bay Park, a limited number of spaces beneath the performing arts center, and additional offsite parking locations within walking distance. Shuttle services would be provided to the performing arts center from any offsite parking areas during events and performances. In addition, valet parking and dedicated ride/share services will be available at the new performing arts center.

We are working on requesting proposals from architects to design the performing arts center. Our hope is to have the architect selected by summer 2022. Then there is 24 months of design, followed by 30 months of construction. If fundraising stays on track, we can cut the ribbon on a new performing arts center by the end of 2026.

The Foundation has conducted two Community Engagement Surveys in 2018 and 2020 to gauge the public’s opinion and desires for the future performing arts center. Over 18,000 community members have responded, and their aspirations have shaped our strategic plan.

Additional opportunities will be offered throughout the architect selection process regarding contemporary, sustainable design primed for international notoriety.

  • Implementation of world-class technological advancements to provide first-rate accommodations for a variety of performance styles, including Broadway, orchestral, choral, dance, movement, and more.
  • Incorporation of sustainable practices into the design, construction, and maintenance of the new performing arts center.

The new performing arts center will be funded both through private philanthropy, which the Foundation will be responsible for, and public funding, including local, state and federal appropriations.

The Foundation Board of Directors and leadership are currently re-costing the building to account for escalation in costs over the last two years.