Going Up

International Design Firm Selects Sarasota-Based Sweet Sparkman to Collaborate on the Sarasota Performing Arts Center

Renzo Piano Building Workshop will lead the design of the building. It chose Sweet Sparkman as the architect of record out of nearly 30 applicants.

By Kim Doleatto April 30, 2024

An aerial view of the Bay Park; the new Sarasota Performing Arts Center will go in just north of the site, by the Van Wezel.

Local architectural firm Sweeet Sparkman has been selected to be the architect of record for the new Sarasota Performing Arts Center (SPAC).

In June 2023, the Sarasota Performing Arts Foundation and the City of Sarasota selected renowned Italian-based firm Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW) as the design architect for the new, yet-to-be-built center. Approved in 2018, the center will be built on The Bay campus, just north of the now-open waterfront park next door. 

Now, after months of deliberation and interviews and reviewing nearly 30 national applications, RPBW has chosen Sweet Sparkman to handle the construction and documentation piece of the project. "[RPBW] typically works this way—leading the design but collaborating with an architect of record,” Sweet Sparkman architect and founder Todd Sweet says. 

In 2004, Sweet partnered with architect Jerry Sparkman to form Sweet Sparkman Architecture & Interiors. Sparkman was responsible for designing many on-site structures in the Bay Park including the concession and restroom pavilion and the shade structures throughout, including the reading room.

“It took several months [to choose the architect of record], and [RPBW] was very careful in its decision-making," says Sweet. "It’s a huge project for the community. They selected us for what they said was our local knowledge of the industry and the spirit of our practice. We want to leave this indelible mark on our community. And we've already worked in the park, and have experience with the site.” 

Sweet adds that it’s too early to go into details about the project and that there's no groundbreaking date yet. Once started, completion could span five to 10 years. For now, “next steps include starting to put the team together,” he says.

The Sarasota-based firm has been practicing for 22 years and has completed cultural and community projects like The Bay, the Center for Asian Art at the Ringling Museum of Art, Ringling College of Art and Design's Basch Visual Arts Center, Asolo Repertory Theatre's Koski Center Campus, Venice Theatre and Siesta Key Park and Pavilion. 

Longboat Key fire station
Ringling College of Art and Design: Basch Visual Arts Center
The Center for Asian Art at the Ringling Museum of Art

While the local arts scene is getting a makeover, this is the biggest and perhaps most talked-about project. Slated to be built on the northern edge of the 53-acre site near the Van Wezel, as part of the overall Bay site project, the new center comes with a projected price tag of $275 million funded by a 50-50 public-private partnership between the government (including Tax Increment Funding) and philanthropy.

The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall

There is uncertainty about the future of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, which has stood on the bayfront for more than 50 years and is considered a beloved landmark. While Sarasota Performing Arts Center Foundation leaders stress that they don’t want the hall to disappear, if the new center opens (with an approximately 2,200-2,300-seat main hall), the Van Wezel wouldn't be allowed to compete as a presenter of performing arts. 

The need for a larger hall has long been discussed, since the Van Wezel has not been considered competitive with Tampa’s Straz Center when it comes to booking bigger shows because its 1,700 seats can’t produce enough revenue. 

“We all agree that Sarasota needs and deserves a new, state-of-the-art performing arts center in the Bay Park and the current Van Wezel Hall cannot be upgraded to meet the needs of the ever-growing community’s demands,” reads a statement on the Van Wezel's website. It goes on to say that “at no time has the City, the Hall or the Foundation suggested that the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall be torn down.”

But agrees that it lacks current technology and isn’t built to cope with sea level rise. Intentions are, however, to continue operation until a new center opens while considering sustainable options for its future use.

As for the style of the new SPAC, it’s too early to tell, but take a look at other projects below to get a vibe for RPBW’s work, which includes The New York Times HQ in New York City (2007);  the Shard (2012), formerly known as London Bridge Tower, in London; the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles (2021); Harvard Art Museums' renovation and expansion in Cambridge, Mass. (2014); and many, many more.

Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, California.
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Kallithea, Greece.

“This will be a true collaboration, with no handing off," says Sweet. "We’re so excited to be involved in a project like this. To collaborate with them is such a privilege."

To learn more and stay updated on the SPAC, click here.

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