Keep the

Van Wezel!

For a fraction of cost to taxpayers of a replacement performing arts center, Sarasota can update and protect  its iconic purple presenting hall,  and add free indoor and outdoor cultural & leisure spaces at The Bay Park.

6 reasons to cherish our crown jewel

The Van Wezel IS Sarasota's Performing Arts Hall

To Save, or Not To Save?

The efforts of Keep the Van Wezel coalition have been nominated for a preservation advocacy award, and the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation named the extraordinary purple hall to its 2023 11 to Save list.

Expert Purple Ribbon Panel Will provide answers...

On July 17, the Sarasota City Commission selected the 7 members of an all-star panel that will explore the future of the organically modern, remarkably memorable purple theater that Carl Abbott, FAIA, called “Sarasota’s icon” – the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. They are (drumroll please):

  • Robert Bunting (climate adaption, FEMA floodplain)
  • Lee-en Chung (civil and structural engineering)
  • Charles Cosler (theater design)
  • Melissa Gissenger (historic interior design)
  • Morris Hylton (preservation, architectural adaption)
  • David Rovine (venue business operations)
  • Selma Goker Wilson (performing arts architecture)

The ad hoc panel has ALL the Wright stuff to study financial and environmental sustainability of continued presenting hall use, or adaptive re-use, of the cultural “Crown Jewel of Sarasota Bay“.

Thank you everyone who participated in sharing the community’s wealth of knowledge about the hall, including prior engineering and market research, and came to the conclusion we think the panel will: Sarasota should cherish, polish, and protect the unique bayside theater that put the city on the map as the capital of Florida’s culture coast:

The Past, Present & Future of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall

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Tickling audiences purple for 53 years

More seats will not Mean Bigger Acts

The proposed Sarasota Performing Arts Center is based on the misconception that we need added seating capacity to compete with Tampa (which has had the largest performing arts center in the Southeast for the last 35 years).

As the Van Wezel Foundation's own 2016 AMS market analysis explained, the touring industry works on regional blackouts, and we can't solve the geographic market constraint of proximity to a metropolis by adding more seats.

Are you a purple people?

The Historic Society of Sarasota County gets "quizzical" about the remarkable Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

No replacement - Keep the iconic Van Wezel!

There is no reason Sarasota’s unique, acclaimed, landmark Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall can’t continue to delight audiences for another 50 years.

Don't believe Fishy Tales about Sarasota's Shell-shaped Landmark

Built in 1968, the “Crown Jewel of Sarasota Bay is an architectural landmark and a cultural treasure.

It is world’s only purple seashell-shaped theater.

Renowned for his innovative organic structures, Van Wezel architect William Wesley Peters holds a vital place in the history of 20th Century American architecture.

According to Van Wezel Director Mary Bensel, there have been many studies of theater seating conducted for ADA (American for Disabilities Act) compliance, and Continental seating is the safest.

In fact, according to fire marshall tests, the Van Wezel empties faster than most halls of its size due to the exit doors near each row and exterior staircases.

Continental seating offers the best unobstructed stage views for everyone, which is why storied theaters—like Sydney’s opera house, and Clearwater’s Taliesin-designed 2,190 seat Ruth Eckerd Hall—also use it.

The misnomer driving the SPAC initiative is the idea that if we had a bigger hall, with more seats, we could get bigger acts to perform here, rather than Tampa. Decades worth of operating history suggest this premise is flawed because of our geographic proximity to the largest performing arts hall in the southeast.

For first-run touring Broadway (which is the #1 draw and desire of the patrons surveyed by the Van Wezel Foundation), Tampa blocks Clearwater, St. Pete, and Sarasota from booking the most popular shows. As the performing arts center for a metropolis, the Straz Center has enforced these blackouts for the last 35 years, and will continue to do so – even if will build a purple people seater with a billion seats.

There are breakpoints in the touring industry for halls with 2,000+ seats vs. those smaller (like the Van Wezel, which has 1,741), but there appears to be nothing we could book if we had 2,200 seats which Tampa would not block.  

A look at the 2022 Broadway touring schedule demonstrates that Ft. Myers, which, like Sarasota, has a theater with under 2,000 seats, can book some of the shows Sarasota can’t, because Ft. Myers is outside of Tampa’s 90 mile blackout radius:

More seats does not mean hotter Broadway for Sarasota because of Tampa's Straz enforces 90 mile radius blackouts

 

A state-of-the-art Meyer speaker array and a Yamaha digital sound console were added in 2010, and based on Trip Advisor and Google reviews, most patrons and performers are pleased with the Van Wezel’s sound quality.

It is true that the sound quality suffered for orchestral purposes when the tower was added in the 1990s to support the larger sets of touring Broadway.

An orchestral shell was added to the Van Wezel which addressed most of the concerns, but symphony music is best enjoyed in a shoebox shaped theater – which the Sarasota Orchestra’s new music hall on Fruitville will provide.

That bespoke music hall will also book touring musical acts in competition with the Van Wezel or any replacement for it.

In 2011, 25 seats were added, and bolt-on accessory cup-holders were installed, impeding navigation between rows and adding to the “stuck in traffic” feeling while waiting to exit at intermission.

Patron comfort is important, and since the Van Wezel rarely sells out, consideration should be given to the remodeling plan commissioned by the city manager (to remove up to 200 seats and add two center aisles).

As it has since its inception, the Van Wezel continues to attract world-class performers like Harry Connick Jr., Josh Groban, Dolly Parton, and John Legend.

But, as we have for the last 35 years, we do have an immutable geographic constraint that prevent us (and St. Pete, and Clearwater, and every other city in a 90 mile radius from Tampa) from booking some shows.

Here’s what Van Wezel director Mary Bensel explained about how blackouts impact the touring industry

“I’m going again to see the Hamilton producer. We’re always fighting for shows like that because The Straz in Tampa thinks that we’re the same marketplace.”

It’s not the same case with standard concerts and shows—it’s simpler and more successful. Bensel cites her great relationship with the management at Ruth Eckerd Hall and the Mahaffey Theater who have agreed not block each other from doing a show.

“That allows an artist such as Harry Connick Jr. or Josh Groban to play two shows in our area—one at Ruth Eckerd Hall and one at the Van Wezel.”

In other words – IF we build it (a larger hall), they (Hamilton) STILL won’t come to Sarasota if they can book at Tampa’s Straz.

That said, when you have a unique theater voted #1 in North America 6 times, you can command top talent.  So here in Sarasota, we can continue to have our cake and eat it too!

Jay Leno with a Van Wezel cake

Described by Taliesin fellows as a "genius architect" in his own right, William Wesley Peters was Wright's first apprentice, son-in-law, and closest associate for 30 years. He is credited with much of the structural work on Wright's masterpiece, Fallingwater, and completed the Guggenheim Museum and Marin County Civic Center as Wright's health declined. Wes Peters chaired the Taliesin Group after Wright's death, and was the lead architect for the Van Wezel Performing arts hall. He wore a purple tuxedo to the opening.

The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall has
The Wright Stuff.

The building's designer, William "Wes" Peters, was Frank Lloyd Wright's chief protégé. In addition to the distinctively lavender Van Wezel, Peters is credited with much of the structural design for Wright's UNESCO World Heritage masterpiece, Fallingwater, The Guggenheim Museum, Marin Civic Center, and Johnson Wax Museum.

Manifestly, Nature loves and continually seeks individuality. Nature places her premium upon it, resists and punishes the loss of it in the great fields of her glorious creations. If our artificial civilization as a way of life goes contrary to this diversity and does not learn the nature of it, does not learn secrets of becoming behavior and appropriate character, does not know the necessary change of form, then what is going to happen to us...Great art alone can prevent us from becoming spiritually paralyze by standardizations, from being sterilized mechanical systems, losing the rich and potent sense of life. Frank Lloyd Wright

Taliesin plans celebrate Sarasota's unique culture and seaside setting

Manifestly, Nature loves and continually seeks individuality. Nature places her premium upon it, resists and punishes the loss of it in the great fields of her glorious creations. If our artificial civilization as a way of life goes contrary to this diversity and does not learn the nature of it, does not learn secrets of becoming behavior and appropriate character, does not know the necessary change of form, then what is going to happen to us...Great art alone can prevent us from becoming spiritually paralyzed by standardizations, from being sterilized mechanical systems, losing the rich and potent sense of life...— Frank Lloyd Wright

Taliesin plans celebrate Sarasota's unique culture and seaside setting

Manifestly, Nature loves and continually seeks individuality. Nature places her premium upon it, resists and punishes the loss of it in the great fields of her glorious creations. If our artificial civilization as a way of life goes contrary to this diversity and does not learn the nature of it, does not learn secrets of becoming behavior and appropriate character, does not know the necessary change of form, then what is going to happen to us...Great art alone can prevent us from becoming spiritually paralyze by standardizations, from being sterilized mechanical systems, losing the rich and potent sense of life...
— Frank Lloyd Wright

The Wright Way– 4 principles of organic design

Context

Buildings wedded to the site - not merely perched on the land.

Form

Structural manipulation used to destroy the traditional "box".

Longevity

Materials chosen to weather over time to reveal their true nature.

People

American architecture must express individuality and democracy.

William Wesley PetersWright's Right Hand

Wright's chief protégé, William Wesley Peters, was described by Taliesin fellows as a "genius architect" in his own right. He was the chief designer of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. Peters was Wright's first apprentice, son-in-law, and closest associate for 30 years.

William Wesley Peters was born June 12, 1912 in Terre Haute, Indiana to Clara Margredant Peters and newspaper editor Frederick Romer Peters. He attended Evansville College from 1927 to 1930, then studied engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1930 to 1931. In 1932 he became Frank Lloyd Wright’s first apprentice, establishing the Taliesin Fellowship.

"Wes" Peters, was an engineer as well as talented designer. Among other celebrated public buildings, he is credited with much of the structural design of the UNESCO World Heritage Wright masterpiece, Fallingwater, and the Guggenheim Museum.

Peters’ architecture possessed a highly distinctive style. From the dramatic and glamorous, to the intimate and inviting. A registered architect in 50 states, Guam and the United Kingdom, he designed more than 120 built projects.

During his career, Wright incorporated history, art, poetry, music, and whimsy into designs for about a thousand buildings. Perhaps more effectively than any architect in the world, he achieved the delicate balance between contemporary innovations and centuries of tradition.

Taliesin Plans for Van Wezel

Wright inspired generations of modern architects to design buildings sensitive to site, climate, and regional associations. He taught countless young designers by example, through his built work, but also at the Taliesin Fellowship, the architecture school he founded in 1932.

Chaired Taliesin GroupUnequivocal Heir to Wright

William Wesley Peters (1921­–1991), sometimes called "Wright's pencil in hand" also penned more than two dozen significant professional articles and was recognized throughout the international architectural community.

Peters’ heart seldom strayed far from Taliesin. He wore two watches: one set for Taliesin time and the other for his current time zone.

After Wright’s death in 1959, Peters became Chief Architect of Taliesin Architects and taught at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.

According to Wright scholar Jonathan Lipman, Peters played an enormous role in the development of modern architecture in America because he figured out how to build what Wright intuitively designed.

In 1985, after Wright's widow Olgivanna passed away, Wes Peters became Chairman of the Board of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation—a title recognizing his role as the unequivocal heir to the Wright legacy.

Peters was described as a chess player of tournament caliber. “He reads extensively and is regarded as one of the best informed men anywhere.”

Ultimately, Peters received three honorary PhDs: Honorary Doctor of Science (Evansville College, 1971), Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts (Center College of Kentucky, 1973), and Honorary Doctor of Architecture (Florida Southern College, 1989).

2000 renovation lead architect Anthony Puttnam was on the original Van Wezel design team, working closely with William Wesley Peters. He remembers Peters returning from an early site visit and excitedly emptying a pile of seashells from his briefcase. "This is it," he told his team.

Peters maintained that the building “fulfills the principles discerned by Mr. Wright,” and was “among the best work we’ve done” at Taliesin.

Creative architecture has become symbolic of the culture of Sarasota. The internationally recognized Sarasota School of Architecture is one of Sarasota's most important cultural exports. In some special cities, there are iconic buildings that speak to the culture of the place – the Van Wezel is Sarasota's icon.

Organically originalLike the Van Wezel Hall!

Taliesin architect Anthony Puttnam pointed out that many of Frank Lloyd Wright's basic architectural philosophies are clearly evident in the work his son-in-law created.

Peters based the design on natural forms, explaining “we wanted it to relate to the native seashell but didn't attempt to imitate the shell.”

It was designed based on the relationship to nature and with the site; "the roof based on a seashell, opening the building to views of Sarasota Bay, the dramatic interior spaces, and use of humble materials to achieve an unexpected richness. They all add up to a 'celebration of circumstance,' as Frank Lloyd Wright said of other designs."

Even the bold color evokes the seashell theme. The distinctive hue was chosen by Wright's widow Olgivanna, based on a seashell she found near the Sea of Japan. That seashell now is on display in the Van Wezel lobby.

WORLD OF INTERIORS looks into the future for the

A Tale of Two Seaside Cities

With Signature

Performing Arts Halls

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA

  • Architect Wright fan

    Jørn Utzon, the 38-year-old architect who won the opera house design competition, was a Wright acolyte who reveled in the chance to meet his hero at Taliesin. His vision exceeded the grasp of physics, and after years of cost overruns, he was fired from the project and never saw the finished building. Architect Peter Hall completed the structure, including designing all of the interiors.

  • Completion time 16 years

    The signature "sails" of the original sketch for the striking roofline won over judges, but proved structurally unsound and unbuildable. The project took a decade longer to build than expected due to constant engineering challenges and heated political debate over altered specifications, changed plans for its use and finance.

  • Cost overrun 1,357%

    Largely funded through state lottery, the Sydney Opera House was budgeted at $7 million, and ended up costing $102 million. In today's dollars, that translates to $962 million Australian dollars, or about three quarters of a billion U.S. dollars.

  • Specifications 191,664 sq. ft

    The 1,000 room Sydney Opera House consists of a 2,664 seat concert hall, a 1,507 person theater with continental seating for dance and Broadway, 544 seat drama theater, a 398 seat cabaret, and a 364 seat playhouse.

  • User Experience Poor

    Until its recent update, the Sydney Opera house was admired as art, but dysfunctional as a theater. A triumph of form over function, the acoustics were poor, the air conditioning horrible, and there were accessibility and circulation issues.

  • Major Update 2022

    After extensive public debate, including discussions of abandoning the iconic structure to build a new one, Sydney fulfilled its civic promise to renew the opera house for future generations. In July 2022, the Opera House completed extensive upgrades to the venue, totaling one fifth of the cost of the original construction.

    Interior renovations were designed by the original architect and included improved acoustics for performers and patrons, enhanced access for people with mobility needs, state-of-the-art theatre machinery and staging systems, and a more flexible and safer working environment behind-the-scenes.

Sarasota, Florida

  • Architect Rightful heir

    Wes Peters was Wright's "write hand". He was the Taliesin Group's lead architect for the biomemetic Van Wezel. He wore a purple tuxedo to the opening.

  • Completion time 2 years

    The design process commenced in 1968, and the hall was completed in 1970. Fittingly given its serrated lavender shell canopy, the first show was "Fiddler on the Roof".

  • Cost On Budget

    Lewis and Eugene Van Wezel donated $400,000—about a quarter of the hall's total cost— to complete the structure.

  • Specifications 80,000 sq. ft

    The fan-shaped theater had 1,716 continental seats when it opened (25 were added in 2011).

  • User Experience 4.5 stars

    Although complaining about Continental seating has been a neighborly bonding ritual for 52 years, the patrons and performers rate the hall highly because of the excellent sight lines, great acoustics for theatrical performances and amplified music, and ease of access to the theater.

  • Major Update 2011

    When the City of Sarasota embarked on the first major renovation and expansion of the landmark theater in 2000, the $20 million dollar challenge was to bring it into the 21st century while preserving its architectural integrity.

    The auditorium was renovated, with a much larger state-of-the-art stagehouse, accessibility improvements including elevators, and better public facilities. The Selby education center and administrative wing was added, and the Grand Foyer and lobbies were enlarged. Special measures were taken to protect the theater's superb acoustics, as well as the intimate feeling in the theater itself. The building became vastly more efficient and comfortable, while the iconic architecture remained intact.

    In 2010, a state-of-the-art Meyer speaker array and a Yamaha digital sound console where added.

    In 2011, 25 seats were added and the original seats were replaced (although patrons have complained that the seats lack the recline the prior ones had to enable easy passage in front of seated guests -a problem exacerbated by bolt-on aftermarket cupholders).

    2013 saw the addition of the unique shade sails on the terrace, together with new furniture, fire pit, and landscaping.

    In 2015 a new portable Wenger orchestra shell was installed on stage, which allows for enhanced acoustics and more flexible storage when large Broadway shows are presented, and the restrooms and foyer were redesigned and renovated.

Replacing the Van Wezel
does not make Cent$

We don't need to put our remarkable purple cow out to pasture prematurely

Many things can use "a little work" when they hit middle age.
That's no reason to force an iconic, unique, world-class performing arts hall into early retirement.
Moo on!

Replace with SPAC

(at cost of at least $250M to Sarasota taxpayers with financing)
$ 300,000,000
  • Falsely assumes more seats = more first run shows
  • Funding with surcharges would double avg. ticket prices to $155 a seat
  • A quarter of a billion tax dollars for no civic benefit
  • Almost certain to cost substantially more than projected
  • Needlessly abandons Sarasota's highly-rated, signature arts hall

Keep the Van Wezel

(cost options for maintaining
"the crown jewel of Sarasota Bay")
$ 3,000,000
  • Implement deferred maintainance
  • Waterproof
  • Perform maintenance $2,000,000

    Seal leaky Founder's Lounge door. Redecorate the Green Room. Replace the roof every 20 years because Florida....

  • Waterproof $1,000,000

    Shells are built for water! The only damage the Van Wezel suffered when Hurricane Ian's 100 mph winds hit Sarasota Bay was the loss of a letter from the sign. Paint-on weather seal to 15' storm surge height.

Add more sparkle

(cost options for protecting and polishing Sarasota's seaside pearl)
$ 12,000,000
  • Upgrade the lighting system
  • Reconfigure seating
  • Harden against storm surge
  • Upgrade lighting $1,000,000

    Upgrade analog lighting console to digital.

  • Undo 2011 seat changes? $4,000,000

    The new seats don't recline as much, and bolt-on cupholders were added, impeding navigation. Consider replacing & reconfiguring seating.

  • Floodproof $7,000,000

    Put in storm glass. Anchor against storm surge. Replace slabs in foyer and basement. Install exterior berms or floodwall.

Back to the Future?
Once there were 3 Bayside halls

The 2007 master plan for the bay contemplated up to 3 cultural arts buildings: 1) the Van Wezel for presenting Broadway & variety 2) a new concert hall for the Sarasota Orchestra, and 3) new theater for The Players and other local arts groups.

With The Players moving to Payne Park auditorium and Sarasota Orchestra building a new music hall on Fruitville, and the Van Wezel in good working condition, operating profitably, and booking greats shows, it seems reasonable to ask of the SPAC vision...why?

IF HAMLET HAD AN MBA...
He'd keep the Van Wezel!

SIGN THE PETITION

Keep the Van Wezel - Sarasota's Performing Arts Hall!

Purple People Place Preservers making news...

Hear from the herd!

NameComment
Enid Klauber
Michael James
Bobbie Howard
Judy GohlPlease do not destroy another piece of Sarasota's history.
Ann Miller
Jessica TraigerIt’s a very special part of our beautiful Bayfront and community!
Brenda DanielPlease save it!!!
Donald KovalikHistoric architecture designed with integrity. Perfectly designed seating and acoustics for the best audience live experience .
Rebecca Wilson BowmanWe need to keep this landmark
JanKeep this diamond structure as part of our skyline
Darcie BeckerWhy is this even an issue? Van Wezel is beautiful.
Margaret Hitzler
Rita Opfergelt
Pauline Natsis
Katherine Lindaman
Nick Headlam
Annette GregorioBeen going there since I moved here over 20 years ago. There is something about the building that is pleasing to me and I like that it isn't too large of a venue. I've seen great performances there and would be sad to see the building go away.
Larry Silvermintz
Gary ShelpNo need to build and out price Sarasota citizens
Charles MallicoteA FL Wright jewel. Truly the ultimate Demolition Crime-Against-Humanity FloriDUH could possibly achieve. World class cultural destruction.
Thomas BridghamPlease don’t squander our money on a new facility we don’t need. Upgrade the VW and everyone wins…except those select few that are lining there already deep pockets.
Claudia BridghamKeep the Van Wezel building and update it, it’s needed. A $5-10 million budget we can make it great again. The city shouldn’t allow a $300 million project from richest philanthropists be a burden on the taxpayers that live and work in Sarasota for many years to come.
Steve Jackson
William Barclay
Tracie L. Reuben