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.