Ora Hour

A Look at The Ora, Sarasota's Newest Events Venue

The Ora will offer fine-dining catering and top-tier tech, but it's also helping to fill the area's need for more luxury event space with lots of square footage.

By Kim Doleatto January 23, 2024

Exterior rendering of The Ora, at 578 McIntosh Road in Sarasota.

The local land boom isn’t stopping at condos, mixed-use projects and apartments. A new events center in Sarasota called The Ora will soon open for business and welcome weddings, conferences, lectures, galas and more.

The 30,000-square-foot building is set to open next month and will be among the area’s largest event venues. It’s spearheaded by The Jewish Federation of Sarastoa-Manatee nonprofit, located next door, which will be celebrating its 65th anniversary next month, as well.

The nonprofit has held the 33-acre campus on McIntosh Road since 1991 and while the Federation and The Ora share the same sprawling campus, they operate independently. Plans for The Ora were submitted in January 2020, and Sarasota-based Tandem Construction broke ground in June 2021.

Designed by Tampa-based architecture firm FleischmannGarciaMaslowski, The Ora is anchored by a 9,500-square-foot ballroom that can seat up to 1,000 guests—700 if seated at round tables. But groups as small as 20 can rent space for a lunch meeting, for example, in a smaller space. In addition to the ballroom, there’s a 2,300-square-foot lobby area and a terrace room of the same size, a 1,100 square-foot gallery as well as an outdoor plaza. But it’s all flexible, with air walls that can easily shear down larger spaces. The venue also includes 400 ground-level parking spaces.

The ballroom can seat up to 1,000.

 In 2019, the Jewish Federation launched a campus capital campaign to support the redevelopment of the front 16 acres of the 33-acre campus. It has since raised more than $27.5 million, more than $9 million of which were new gifts in 2023. 

Inside The Ora, “it’s pretty neutral so people can dress it up the way they like,” says Deanna McGrath, director of operations. “It’s spacious and elegant, with soaring ceilings and sculptures of ribbons hanging from them in the ballroom. It’s grand and unique, with a timeless look.”

Sculptures that mimic ribbons hang from the soaring ceilings in the ballroom.

It’s also primed for a new era in event hosting, with projection mapping customization that can turn walls and objects into animated, immersive visual experiences. If you’re not familiar, think of the Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience exhibit, which made a stop in Sarasota, or the Dalí Alive 360° experience at the Dalí Museum in nearby St. Petersburg. Both apply the same technology to tell the story of the artist and make spectators feel enveloped in their work.

Led by local company Enlightened Monkey, The Ora entryway walls will be outfitted with the projection mapping effect, too. For guests, it’s an added experience they can customize to their event.

“If a couple met at a park in another city, for example, they could recreate that place for a local wedding reception,” says McGrath. With video and sound, projection mapping can make people feel like they’re walking in Rome or hiking in the Grand Canyon.

Other than the bells and whistles of fine-dining catering and top-tier tech, the new events space is also helping to fill a gap.

“Around 2019, our board saw a need for its own events and had a hard time finding a luxury space that wasn’t booked 16 months out. We’re also hoping this will be a good source of revenue,” McGrath says. The cost range to rent space at The Ora is roughly $1,500 to $5,000, excluding catering, which will be handled exclusively by Michael’s On East.

Entryway ceiling detail at The Ora.

The Hyatt Regency and the Ritz-Carlton, both in downtown Sarasota, are the only other luxury event spaces in the county with similar square footage (10,000 square feet, and 12,000 square feet, respectively).

In the 2019 Visit Sarasota County (VSC) draft of its 2025 Strategic Plan to Sarasota County commissioners, VSC outlined the need for a conference center and larger events spaces.

Stakeholders agreed that “meetings and conferences could be a larger market because of all the other natural amenities that make Sarasota County a great place to visit. Stakeholders also agreed that the lack of large venues is a deterrent for Sarasota County to compete in this space,” plan documents read.

It went further to highlight that “meetings and conventions are routinely turned away from Sarasota County based on the lack of a sizable convention/conference venue.” Indeed, an interview with recent past VSC president Virginia Haley revealed the same, as she pointed to the dearth as a challenge to attracting conventions and other high-number, tourist-rich meeting opportunities to the area.

The plan noted that a downtown location would be ideal, but The Ora is located at a midway point–it's three miles from I-75 and four miles from downtown Sarasota. 

The Ora is located at 578 McIntosh Road in Sarasota. Call or text (941) 343-2107 to book a space, or learn more here.

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