Second verse, same as the first...

The Sarasota Orchestra's leadership is STILL insisting that only 7 acres (10 times MORE real estate than Carnegie Hall) in the heart of Payne Park will meet its needs.

You may have seen Commissioner Liz Alpert’s ode to the Sarasota Orchestra in Sunday’s Sarasota Herald Tribune, outlining the orchestra’s familiar talking points for its position.

No one can doubt the sincerity of Commissioner Alpert’s desire to see the Sarasota Orchestra stay in the city that birthed it, and has nurtured and supported it for over 70 years. But it takes two parties to negotiate any deal or maintain any relationship…and the orchestra’s actions indicate reluctance to accept the importance of remaining in the city whose name it bears.

Since February 2019, Sarasotans have endured discord because of the Orchestra leadership’s decision to abandon the bayfront, where they enjoy a penny-a-year lease, coupled with the absurd notion that the only possible place in city limits for their desired new concert hall is the part of Payne Park now occupied by ducks, trees, tennis players, skateboarders, runners, dog walkers, children playing at the circus park, and soon bikers from the Legacy Trail.

There are 3 problems with this vision:

  1. As stated by Payne descendent Kate Shumate, when the city obtained the land from her great grandparents, Calvin and Martha Payne, it was with the understanding that the greenspace would be used as a park or playground for all Sarasotans to freely enjoy.
  2. The amount of real estate the Sarasota Orchestra insists it needs is 10 times more than the best orchestras in the country require. In fact, the top 5 symphony halls in the United States could ALL fit in the 7-acre footprint the orchestra’s leadership demands:

Citizens are left to wonder why the Sarasota Orchestra will not explain why it needs cannot be met in a footprint in line with these renowned performance halls, and why the location of its proposed structure must consume the heart of the existing park?

  1. The logic that some parks have some buildings in them does not support turning over huge swaths of deed-restricted publicly-owned greenspace for entombment. Why should S.O. be given parkland to pave over and habitats to destroy and not some other non-profit or cultural entity with a worthy mission?

None of these arguments are new, nor have they changed since 2019. Yet, this loud civic stand-off continues, because feelings seem to have been hurt when a hermetically-created and out-of-scale vision was rightly rejected two years ago.

The tragedy of this unwillingness to dialogue is that 3 potential park-adjacent options with more than enough acreage to fulfill an orchestra’s needs were pro-actively identified by the Ad Hoc Friends of the Orchestra (a group of symphony fans, community leaders, park users, downtown business owners, urban planners and architects):

Please tell Sarasota Orchestra CEO Joe McKenna to explore other sites, or announce his plans to move the organization outside of the city whose name it bears

If the orchestra were willing to discuss option 1, which places the hall conveniently adjacent to the county-owned parking lot which orchestra patrons would be using, the city has proposed ADDING to Payne Park the city-owned land in option 2, offsetting any lost space from within the existing Payne Park footprint, and creating a prominent new entrance to the park on 301.

Yet, after pitting neighbor against neighbor and stringing the city along for many years, the orchestra’s leadership has apparently rejected even discussing these possible solutions, or at least shared their thoughts with our community.

It seems that nothing but an allotment of precious land at the heart of the park proper will do. As recently as July, city manager Marlon Brown requested a rendering from staff of the impact to Payne Park if the Orchestra’s 2019 plan was shifted encompass virtually the entire northeast corner of the park; such an approach would displace the popular skatepark which Olympian Jake Ilardi calls home, as well as the much-loved Café in the Park, scores of mature trees, and a goodly chunk of the walking and running path:

S.O. What's Next?

Were S.O. a private entity, their board would have the absolute unassailable right to their unilateral decision of where to relocate. But since, by dint of its very name, the Sarasota Orchestra belongs to and in our city, citizens should be considered by the board in this profound decision. We citizens not only want, but deserve, a say in the matter and a seat at the table.

If the Orchestra has already has made arrangements to locate elsewhere, the least they could do would be to inform the city and the citizens of this choice, so that we can move forward as a community to begin recruiting an orchestra which would be honored to call the new $250 million performing arts center taxpayers will be funding at the Bayfront “home”.

Please contact the orchestra CEO to urge him to:

  1. explore the possible solutions in the city which don’t entail reducing precious greenspace or existing outdoor amenities, or please, FINALLY
  2. announce his intention to build elsewhere and end this melodrama.

It is high past time for the finale of this long-running sonata.

If the above email link does not work on your computer, please manually direct an email to Joe McKenna at

Thank you for taking the time to make sure the citizen’s voice is heard and the people’s park preserved.

Sarasota Orchestra marching to the beat of their own drummer again, says its "our way or the highway".

Spurning Mayor Brody's extended hand, Orchestra demands that city grovel and hand park over to private special interest

In a stunningly tone deaf memorandum to the City Manager, the Sarasota Orchestra dismissed all efforts to find a reasonable civic solution to its desire for a new concert hall near the 1,000 bay municipal parking garage adjacent to Payne Park which is so attractive to the orchestra (because it would save them $30 million dollars in construction costs).

Spurning the three possible “no-greenspace” site plans proffered by the ad hoc Friends of the Sarasota Orchestra group, and declining to even see an innovative plan from an acclaimed local architect who has designed award-winning concert halls on an international basis, S.O. reiterated its demand from 2019 that the city play reverse Robinhood, and try to employ legal loopholes to steal 7 acres of public parkland from the public for private indoor entertainment.

It is worth noting that the urban-scale Carnegie Hall in NYC has 4,500 seats in 4 auditoriums, as opposed to the 2,500 seat music hall the Sarasota Orchestra envisions, in a .7 acre footprint — a tenth of the acreage that this orchestra is demanding.


From the tenor and close-mindness of the orchestra’s memo, it appears that S.O. wants to fulfill the vision its CEO outlined in 2003 of moving to Lakewood Ranch and is trying to pin the blame on the unruly citizenry and city commissioners who extended a hand to try and find a workable configuration that accommodates the orchestra’s needs, while respecting the law and the rights of all of the citizens of Sarasota to enjoy the precious greenspace gifted to us by the Payne family.

When an arts organization is so out of tune that it has lost the support of the Sarasota Observer, and goes out of its way to spurn the efforts of elected civic leaders and knowledgable public supporters to find a “win-win” solution, it clearly does not want to stay in the city that has nurtured it with a penny-a-year lease for 70 years.

Poet Maya Angelou shared the wisdom that “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” The orchestra’s 7-acre parkland grab was rejected by 1,800 citizens the first time, because the plan was outrageous and oversized then, and remains so now.

When someone shows you who they are

How the city commission will react to this latest extortion attempt remains to be seen, but the Preserve Payne Park coalition has retained counsel and is prepared to litigate to preserve this PUBLIC park as a public park.

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:

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.