As the Sarasota Arts Center gets closer to starting construction, the interim director of the foundation shares his vision

The Sarasota Performing Arts Center Foundation is leading a multimillion-dollar capital fundraising campaign for a new performing arts center, in Bay Park, envisioned in the master plan, approved by the City Commission in 2018.

Formerly called the Van Wezel Foundation the organization, while working toward the construction of the new Sarasota Performing Arts Center, is also rebranding its organization to be of the same name. 

The foundation is currently working on selecting an architecture firm to take on the project.

Jim Travers

As the Sarasota Arts Center gets closer to starting construction, the interim director of the foundation, Jim Travers, spoke to Tampa Bay Business and Wealth about his vision for bringing the arts to students, their families and the community at large. 

What’s the background of this project? 

There’s been a planning process that the city had launched, which we participated in, to develop 53 acres and there was a master plan approved for that. 

The city commission approved the plan including a new performing arts center in the middle of the 53 acres, which really launched the process of the foundation, working directly with the city of Sarasota, and eventually the county of Sarasota, to build together, with a public private partnership, the new performing arts center as part of that master plan.

We’re in the process of architectural selection, which is obviously a key milestone. We have received an incredible response of over 40 of the best architects in the world. We’re whittling that down to 18. And we hope by April, we’ll be able to finalize it to three and then obviously make the final decision on the architect which is critical to design. 

We just announced this past week a significant donation of $10 million from the Paul Seed Fund. We’ve committed $30 million of private money already for the project. We have a lot more to do but we’re well underway on our side.

With the theater itself, we want to make it very accessible to the community. Part of the vision is that, for example, we’re going to be able to do simulcast out to the green space and welcome the community, some of who maybe can’t get in to see what’s happening in the theater. We want to broadcast shows to the community and their families. A key part of our mission is community engagement. 

Sarasota already has a vibrant arts community. It sounds like this project will enhance that and offer new opportunities. What will be the economic impact? 

One of the reasons I moved here, outside of the water and quality of life, was the arts scene. It’s unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. I think you’re aware of the vibrancy here. This new arts center will extend that ability. 

The economic impact, just with the building, includes wages and labor, and then you start putting on top of that, the real estate value. The amount of development going on in Florida, it’s just been incredible. 

That’s going to continue to go up so the tax revenue impact to the city and the county will be significant. 

What is this is going to do as far as creating value and opportunity for the community that wasn’t previously there? 

One of the things that got me involved in this foundation, to begin with, is that we educate and expose the arts to over 50,000 students a year, and their families, with the current hall. We’re going to be able do more of that. This just gives us a great opportunity to even extend that capability. 

We’re also going to be branching out into mental health. The arts are an incredible way to meet people that have some mental challenges and we’re going to do a lot of that as a foundation. 

Sometimes our core mission gets lost. It’s important for people to understand that this is a lot more than just a building. It’s what goes on in the building that can change lives.

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