Once a pit used by construction firms that needed extra dirt, and by teenagers looking for a place to go "mudding," Nathan Benderson Park will host the biggest international rowing event in 2017.
Indeed, Sarasota County is now undergoing a facelift — through public and private development projects and land speculation — that will change its physical landscape significantly within the next decade. Here are five reasons Sarasota is on track for a major facelift.
+ The 2017 World Rowing Championships
Rowing, rowing, rowing.
The political rhetoric in Sarasota County has become about as tedious as the up-and-down motion of oar blades. It all centers on plans to host the 2017 World Rowing Championships at Nathan Benderson Park.
The buzz may become a bore, but one thing is certain: the area will get an unprecedented tourism boost from the event and venue. Officials estimate the 10-day World Championships will attract more than 42,000 people and 1,500 athletes to Sarasota and Manatee counties and have a regional economic impact of $25 million.
The venue is already stunning compared to a borrow pit and regularly hosts events and practices, but it will look much different come 2017. Over the next two years, construction crews will build a boathouse and start and finish towers, the core of an expansion to facilities that requires the firm heading the venue to raise another $15 million.
Driving over I-75 past the event will certainly provide a sight never before seen in once-sleepy Sarasota County.
+ The Siesta Key Beach improvement project
Despite the controversy and bickering, the $21.5 million Siesta Key Public beach improvement project is on track.
Like it or not, Siesta beach is going to look completely different in 10 years.
From the Gulf of Mexico, it's difficult to pick out the Siesta Key beach pavilion, which was built in the Sarasota School of Architecture style in 1960.
The improvements are sizeable and available to see by clicking through this presentation. The additions will certainly have the beach visible from the Gulf..
The sleepy fishing village has become an internation tourism destination, an apt parallel to Sarasota County as a whole.
+ The Fruitville Initiative
The mouth-watering frontage. The tantalizing proximity to major transportation corridors. The breathtaking views of iconic natural lands.
Hyperbole aside, the roughly 300 acres of land east of I-75 on Fruitville Road remain undeveloped — for now.
Sarasota County commissioners approved a $50,300 payment to Sweet-Sparkman Architects Aug. 28, for consulting on the second phase of the Fruitville Initiative, the ambitious zoning plan to encourage targeted development on those prime properties.
The process requires extensive public outreach, but commissioners directed County Administrator Randall Reid to work expeditiously. A timeline shows the final public workshop wrap-up happening at the beginning of December.
The plan is to encourage compact, mixed-use communities, with walkable features and lots of open space, as opposed to sprawling suburbs or big box stores. Analyses show those type of developments provide a much greater tax base.
The plan sputtered in 2010, but after three years on the backburner, County commissioners — specifically Joe Barbetta — seem amped to get the Fruitville Initiative closer to fruition.
+ New downtown Sarasota hotels
Downtown Sarasota could see some crane action for the first time in years.
Developers have currently — or will have soon — proposed 973 hotel rooms and 291 residential units, comprising five new downtown hotels.
That's a lot of new stories on the Sarasota skyline, and a lot of wiggle room for new local tourism.
Of course, the projects will have their obstacles, one is currently entangled in a lawsuit, but even if only two of these projects is built, downtown Sarasota will be on track to look more and more like a real city.
+ Sarasota 2050 overhaul
The Fruitville Initiative would provide a surprising sight to a Sarasota County resident shot a decade ahead in time, but that could be a fraction of new development east of I-75.
What that new development and how much of it there will be are currently up for debate as the county works to tweak Sarasota 2050, which guides future growth in the county. On May 8, Sarasota County commissioners voted 4-1 to re-open Sarasota 2050 and begin the process of revising its regulations.
When Sarasota County officials approved their 2050 Plan in 2002, they wanted to create urban-style, walkable communities in undeveloped areas of the county, particularly lands east of Interstate 75.
But, more than 10 years later, only one project has been developed — Neal Communities’ Grand Palm development, in Venice.
County commissioners are eager to make the plan work, meaning the vision of the future is closer to reality.