Renzo Piano has been selected to design the new Sarasota Center for the Performing Arts

Renzo Piano has been selected to design the new Sarasota Center for the Performing Arts

The new Sarasota Center for the Performing Arts will replace the city’s current theater, the Van Wezel Hall for the Performing Arts. (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 selected for the job following a comprehensive solicitation process that began last October, in which 43 companies submitted their qualifications to be considered for the project.

Sarasota’s next performing arts center will be built on the new Bay Park campus, which is located on the site of the parking lot used by the current Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. Van Wezel features a bright pink exterior and marine-inspired shapes. The building was the vision of Frank Lloyd Wright’s son-in-law and stepson William Wesley Peters of Taliesin Associated Architects, a now-defunct firm founded by Wright. A new performing arts center has been proposed for the site due to the threat of sea level rise to Van Wezel and its poor condition.

With the new center located close to Sarasota Bay, it will be designed with flood resilience in mind and raised outside the flood zone. In addition to updated theater and performing arts technology, the new facility will feature a 2,100-seat main stage, a 300-seat flexible performance space, and 165,000 square feet that can be used for educational programming and event hosting.

What will happen to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center remains to be seen. The city, which owns the facility, has considered continuing to use it for displays. Members of the Van Wezel Foundation worked with Sarasota city officials on plans for the new performance center in light of a campaign by Van Wezel descendants to keep the current facility running.

The list of 43 applications was whittled down to 18 in December, and each was invited to submit a request for proposals. This shortlist has been cut short again with the announcement of six semi-finalists, including RPBW, Snøhetta, Foster + Partners, Gehry Partners, Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Henning Larsen.

Last month, a group of prominent architects was sorted into four finalists: RPBW, Snøhetta, Foster + Partners, and Gehry Partners. (Gehry Partners chose not to move forward.) The three finalist firms were invited to Sarasota on May 31 to make public presentations on their ideas for the new arts center, and to conduct interviews with an architect selection task force, which was formed by three institutional board members and an appointed representative From the city, headed by Dr. Jane K. Brettell, Vice Chairman of the Foundation’s Board of Directors.

During final deliberation, the task force voted 3-1 in favor of RPBW, with the only vote against the Foster + Partners team.

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

“The arts have magic and the power to transform lives and communities at every level. In their work and presentation, Renzo Piano’s workshop reflected exceptional vision and sensitivity to a range of issues that we believe best suit the project and can create something that our community will celebrate for generations to come.”

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

The new performing arts center could cost between $275 million to $300 million, with money coming from private donations, grants and tax increment financing proceeds from the surrounding Bay Area.

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