Statement from the Preserve Payne Park Coalition to the Public, Feb. 13, 2021

Part of Payne Park put back in play by Mayor Brody

From: Hagen Brody
Sent: Friday, February 12, 2021 3:20 PM
To: Marlon Brown
Cc: Pat Robinson ; Shayla Griggs ; Robert Fournier Subject: The Sarasota Orchestra and Payne Park

Mr. Brown,

A few months shy of two years ago we as a Commission (4-1) voted to exclude the property in and around Payne Park from consideration for the Sarasota Orchestra’s new home. The concept presented by the Orchestra replaced the tennis courts, tennis facility, and established water features on the northwest corner of the park with a new Orchestra Hall and parking lot. The motion and subsequent vote that rejected that specific location at Payne Park went a step further, perhaps prematurely, to exclude not just that location but the entire property and existing structures from further evaluation

At the time, I felt there was simply not enough due diligence put towards finding other suitable locations within the city limits. Since that decision in 2019, I along with many others, have worked tirelessly to identify another plausible location that keeps the Sarasota Orchestra in the City of Sarasota and preferably to many, downtown. I have personally inquired into locations that seemingly could have worked at first blush, but for different and legitimate reasons, ultimately, were not feasible. Furthermore, since that decision the Commission has commenced the process of converting over 200 acres to new park space in our City, more than any other Commission in our history.

Nevertheless, as we sit today, it’s clear the City of Sarasota faces the urgent and troubling likelihood of losing our Orchestra which we’ve hosted for over 70 years in the City of Sarasota.

While I remain displeased with concept as originally presented, in keeping with our mission to maintain the City of Sarasota as a cultural and arts center for generations to come, I have come to believe we as a Commission must act and should reconsider our prohibition that would allow the Sarasota Orchestra to further explore concepts that could potentially emerge as a mutually beneficial marriage between Payne Park and the Orchestra.

Therefore, pursuant to our rules of procedure that allows a Commissioner on the winning side of a previous vote to revisit past decisions, please calendar this item on the next regularly scheduled City Commission meeting of March 1, 2021 for discussion and direction to allow the Sarasota Orchestra and City staff to further explore options for a Sarasota Orchestra location in and around Payne Park.

Please forward to the Commission. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Warm regards,
Hagen Brody

Next steps for Coalition? We need more information...

What Now?

The concerns the 1,800 member Preserve Payne Park coalition raised regarding the Orchestra’s plan in 2019 still pertain:

  1. The Payne family gifted this land to the citizens of Sarasota for use as a “park, playground, and for no other purpose”. The deed prevents giving an inch of the park to any purpose other than public park, and the Payne family descendants are on our side and have our backing.
  2. Not one blade of grass of the rich human, animal, and tree ecosystem of Sarasota’s “central park” is fungible, and the park’s existing greenspace must be preserved.
  3. When the park area hosted a baseball stadium, the resulting gridlock was described as “the worst traffic jam in the state”.

Since it is unclear at this point exactly what is being envisioned, we think it is important that the City Commissioners hear from us to reiterate these concerns, and make it clear that what the Orchestra proposed in 2019 (taking 7 acres of park land, including mature trees and the duck pond) is, and remains, unacceptable to the citizens.

So, please take a few moments to write to:

citycommissioners@sarasotafl.gov

and let them know that the plan, as presented in 2019, is not palatable.

Thank you to Calvin and Martha Payne for giving the City of Sarasota "the greatest gift it has ever received," and to their descendants for helping to preserve Payne Park as a public park open to ALL of the citizens of Sarasota to "live in sunshine and drink the wild air" (Ralph Waldo Emerson).

Statement from the Preserve Payne Park Coalition to the Public, May 21, 2019

Early this morning, WE made history together. At 1:30AM, May 21, 2019, the City Commission voted to remove Payne Park as a possible location for the Sarasota Orchestra’s massive new concert hall and parking lot. The deliberations went on for 5 hours and set a City Commission record for most people signed up to speak about any matter.

Frankly, it is a travesty that the Sarasota Orchestra plan made it as far as it did. It should have been rejected at the outset by city leadership as an outrageous idea, but for whatever unknown reasons, it wasn’t. We all know that Sarasota is growing leaps and bounds, and the pressure from developers and wealthy donors will accelerate to squeeze in new buildings and parking facilities on every corner of our beautiful city.

A critical reason that we prevailed against the Orchestra’s ill-advised plan, is that the Payne family was very clear that their gift was to be used for park or playground, and for no other use or purpose. This made it easier to make the case that if City leadership chose to ignore the Payne family’s wishes, and the voices of thousands of their citizens, there would be a strong case for a lawsuit. We appreciate the foresight of Calvin and Martha Payne to not only gift the land for outdoor recreation use, but to also place a legal restriction on their gift.

Unfortunately, almost none of the parks and beaches in Sarasota have this restriction on development which makes it more likely that they will be paved over with time. Without the Payne family’s gift restriction, we may well have lost a couple of critical commissioners’ votes, and we would have lost a significant portion of Payne Park to development.

While we are hopeful that this massive outpouring of citizen outrage was a lesson to our Commissioners on how much we collectively value our green space and outdoor recreation, we also know that elected officials have other pressures on them. We must remain vigilant and not let our guard down. The forces that drive the privatization of public parks and beaches are prevalent and persistent.

The Preserve Payne Park coalition plans to take a needed rest to enjoy our green space and outdoor recreation for now. But when we need your powerful voice again for preserving other Sarasota parks and beaches, we hope that we can count your support.

Thank you!

Preserve Payne Park Coalition

(on Behalf of the Rich Ecosystem of Payne Park: Humans, Insects, Birds, Flowers, Trees, Reptiles, Amphibians, and All the Critters that Live and Play in Payne Park)

The arguments made last night were diverse and strong. It is amazing what we can achieve together!!!

Thousands of letters to the editor, social media comments, emails to commissioners, petition comments and signatures, and your presence at meetings, made it possible for 4 of the 5 City Commissioners to vote NO against the Orchestra’s proposed land grab in Payne Park.

Commissioner Hagen Brody NO
Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie NO
Vice-Mayor Jen Ahearn Koch NO
Commissioner Willie Charles Shaw NO
Mayor Liz Albert YES

A sincere thanks to the Vice-Mayor and the Commissioners who listened patiently and acted on the many voices and concerns of their citizens.

Payne Park is located at 2050 Adams Lane in downtown Sarasota.  After only the first two phases of a 5 phase master plan have been completed, the park today has a tree-lined 1/2 mile track for walking or jogging, a tennis center, a skateboard park, a disc golf course, a lovely cafe, an and a state-of-the art circus-themed children’s playground. 

In February 2019, the Sarasota Orchestra presented its “vision” for a new concert hall in Payne Park.  This 2,500 seat structure would be the largest building in the City, and would entail the loss of 7 acres of greenspace, destruction of a natural habitat, including dozens of mature trees and and active duckpond, and the addition of a roadway abutting the  children’s playground.