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Orchestrated melodrama befitting Shakespeare

Susan Stein · Sarasota Herald Tribune · July 18, 2021

Music according to Shakespeare

The Reconstruction-era promise of “40 acres and a mule” has come to symbolize broken pledges for justice. Payne Park – given by Calvin and Martha Payne in 1925 to Sarasota’s citizens as a “park, playground and kindred uses and for no other use or purpose” – comprises 40 acres of premium downtown land that has long been misused.

The “mule” is the leadership of the Sarasota Orchestra, which insists that: 1) only a site 10 times the size of New York’s Carnegie Hall can satisfy its prodigious needs, and 2) the one and only acceptable location for this mammoth private business is on deed-restricted public greenspace in Sarasota’s version of Central Park.

The melodrama in which the orchestra’s management has embroiled this community for more than two years befits Shakespeare more than Stravinsky. And the management’s conduct – its fixation on Payne Park – would make this farce if it weren’t tragic.

“Tragedy” concerns violation; it charts human appetite turning into disease. And it often begins when powerful figures crave something to which they have no right. They deftly convince themselves that they are entitled to the thing they want. And because they are honchos, they are accustomed to getting their way when they really want something.

Meanwhile, “farce” has been present ever since the city became willing to interpret just about anything – including a trailer park, a legal library, a jail and an industrial truck parking lot.– as an appropriate and “kindred” use of Payne Park.

But the latest bullying scheme embarrasses even farce, and it comes in the form of grotesque attempts by the orchestra’s “superfans” to use legalese to try and force the deed to mean what they want it to mean. This could lead to the city, with taxpayers’ money, bringing legal action against the Payne descendants – or against the 1,800 citizens who object to a massive private indoor business seizing Payne Park’s lily ponds, walking paths and grassy recreation areas.

Acting in good faith, Sarasota’s mayor and other city leaders have proposed alternatives to the orchestra. But the orchestra’s chief executive has rejected every compromise that has been offered. They include:

  • Expanding on the Bayfront, where the cost of the orchestra’s lease is one cent a year.
  • Building a site on the Fairgrounds – and right near Robarts Arena.
  • Building a concert hall – with an appropriate urban scale footprint – on tracts of land next to but not inside Payne Park.

Unfortunately, the city leadership’s requests for dialogue with the orchestra have been dismissed.

Do orchestra patrons know this? Do they approve? Few, if any, seem to live near Payne Park; clearly they do not cherish it. But we, the residents of working-class Alta Vista, do cherish it.

The disgrace to the legacy of Payne Park – the jewel that was gifted by the Payne family to endure forever –can now finally be rectified by the current Sarasota City Commission. And to those whose arrogance has prolonged this travesty, hear this: vulgarity is at its ugliest when it wears a tuxedo.

Everyone can see what’s right and wrong here. Everyone knows what “park,” “recreation” and “no other use or purpose” all mean. Everyone. Even you.

Payne descendant grateful for public support of park

“I appreciate the efforts to bring the Sarasota Orchestra downtown and it is obvious that many people desire the same.

I believe that all Americans deserve access to areas of natural beauty such as Payne Park, especially at a time when there is an epic dissociation with nature.

Thoreau said, ‘I should be glad if all the meadows on earth were left in a wild state, if that were the consequence of men’s beginning to redeem themselves.’

As a great-great-granddaughter of Calvin Payne, I felt honored to represent the family at this time. I am grateful for the overwhelming support that was shown by the citizens of Sarasota and Sarasota County.

Looking toward the future, I hope that the government of Sarasota will come to cherish Payne Park as much as the citizens of Sarasota do.”


“We don’t want or need a concrete, steel, and glass box covering 20% of the park, including a pond, desecrating the desperately needed green space in an otherwise urban environment.

The very least that we, as a community, can do is to respect the wishes of the Payne Family, who were gracious enough to donate their land to the city to be a FREE PUBLIC PARK, by keeping Payne Park FREE, GREEN, and PUBLIC! I’m pro orchestra and pro Payne Park but put the orchestra somewhere else!

We require green space for both physical and mental heath and once it’s gone, it’s gone forever!”

James Portman
Hudson Park

May 6, 2019 City Commission Meeting

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