Cultural treasures in Naples, Sarasota tagged budget turkeys

Florida TaxWatch wants the Governor to veto funding to replace the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

Florida TaxWatch wasn’t in the mood to stop and smell (or grow) the roses this year. The group targeted plenty of cultural grants and park expenditures in Southwest Florida in its list of turkeys in the Legislature’s budget.

TaxWatch maligned a project in Republican Sen. Kathleen Passidomo‘s Naples district. Passidomo is in line to be the next Senate President. The list includes $750,000 in parks funding for a horticulture campus (HB 2129) at the Naples Botanical Garden.

TaxWatch’s report notes a Recreational Development Assistance Program where local governments can apply for grants. But rather than going through review by the Department of Environmental Protection, the horticulture campus was among projects bypassing the process by reaching out to lawmakers.

But Passidomo said the project is necessary and of statewide significance.

“The Horticulture Campus at the Naples Botanical Garden will be an important component in the state’s goal of protecting and enhancing water quality, reducing beach erosion and providing wildlife habitat through science-based research and planning to introduce environmentally-friendly, sustainable landscaping plants best suited for subtropical Florida,” Passidomo said.

“It will also identify, grow, and share plants that thrive in nutrient-poor environments, withstand storms, and tolerate rising temperatures. Importantly the facility will educate citizens, landowners, and landscaping professionals about sustainable landscaping options and techniques. For these reasons I support the funding of this very important project of statewide significance.”

Another expenditure in a culture-rich community flagged by TaxWatch is a planned venue on Sarasota Bay.

The Legislature set aside $250,000 for a new performing arts hall in Sarasota as part of The Bay redevelopment. It will replace the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and has been planned by local government for years. But lawmakers shouldn’t have to step in with member project bills, TaxWatch said.

“It is not surprising when an organization avoids the grant process and instead approaches a legislator to submit a request for funding,” the report says.

But Rep. Fiona McFarland, a Sarasota Republican, didn’t care for TaxWatch’s spending dissmisal.

“Characterizing the Sarasota Performing Arts Center as a ‘turkey’ is a disservice to the community and the arts. The city of Sarasota has determined that the current Van Wezel Hall is among the city’s most vulnerable structures, as it sits in a high-risk flood zone and is nearing the end of its service life,” she said.

“The money allocated for a new performing arts center in Sarasota will allow them to hire a world-class architect who specializes in resilient design to replace the Van Wezel Hall with a new state-of-the-art facility. The new facility will anticipate sea level rise and storm water runoff, while also generating significant revenue and jobs for the local area.”

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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