Named best performing arts hall in North America in 2020 – for the 6th time!
Rather than squandering a quarter billion taxpayer dollars on an unneeded replacement, Sarasota could spend a tenth of that to protect and update our landmark hall. Will you sign the petition to protect our iconic Purple People-Seater?
In 2020, the renowned purple people seater was named the world’s best theater in the under 2,000 seat class, and was listed as a Top Stop by trade magazine VenuesNow. Performers have affectionately called the remarkably memorable theater “the purple palace”. The lavender-hued Van Wezel hall consistently ranks highly with patrons.
The landmark variety hall is lauded by Sarasota School architects, who drew inspiration from Wright’s organic style, and uniquely melded it with mid-century modern aesthetics and Florida-native materials and climate adaptions.
The acclaimed Van Wezel Performing Arts CenterISthe cultural arts center of Florida’s west coast — and, according to the engineering report the city commissioned in November, 2021, the building is sound, in good shape, and there is no reason it can’t be updated and floodproofed and continue to be our landmark variety hall and playhouse for another 50 years.
FUN FACT: when the Van Wezel was closed for major renovations 20 years ago, performances at the bayfront were held in a circus tent!
Performing artists ranging from Helen Hayes to John Legend have praised the storied hall because its stage placement and sight lines make both audience and performer feel as it “you are playing in someone’s living room”. According to Sarasota Magazine, “Whether you’re a visitor or a years-long resident, there’s one place that is sure to scratch both the neo-nostalgic itch AND deliver cutting-edge entertainment: The Van Wezel.”
We should add the Van Wezel to the historic register, and treat it like the noteworthy architecture and city-defining cultural treasure that it is. Indeed, for a fraction of the cost of a replacement $300,000,000 performing arts hall, we could update the Van Wezel’s technology, fix the seating circulation problems, and floodproof it. Architect (and now District 2 Sarasota county commissioner) Mark Smith estimated that the enhancements and weather-protection could be done for less than a fifth of the cost of replacing the storied hall.
Among its many upgrades over the years, the Van Wezel installed a Wegner orchestra shell to address some dead spots in reverberations caused by the circa 2000 installation of the flytower to accommodate large theater sets. These measures helped, but orchestral music is best enjoyed and performed in a shoebox-shaped symphony hall, which Sarasota’s orchestra is seeking to build as a regional music center on Fruitville and 75. The generous philanthropists supporting the SPAC idea could leave a positive legacy for Sarasota, and best support its unique arts, architecture, and culture by contributing to the Sarasota Orchestra’s efforts to build a dedicated symphony hall.
Although the Sarasota opera, ballet, and repertory theater groups have their own facilities, we do have some local performing arts groups which don’t have a dedicated performance space or rehearsal facilities. What if we treat the whole Bay Park as our arts canvas and campus, and convert Holley Hall (or build a replacement for it) for use by those local performing arts groups once the orchestra completes its planned relocation? If we do that, add an amphitheater, and install simulcasting equipment, we could make both human arts and nature’s beauty more accessible to broader audiences at the waterfront Bay Park.
If you can think of better things for our civic leaders to spend a quarter of a billion $$$ Sarasota tax dollars on ($5,000 per person for every city resident) than an unnecessary Van Wezel replacement, please add your name and comment to the petition, and pass this email along to your friends and neighbors.