Proponents of a plan to create a new vision for the bayfront property surrounding the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall received praise at Monday’s City Commission meeting, but may not have gotten what they were ultimately seeking from commissioners.
Led by Visit Sarasota County, a group of local organizations is beginning a push to create a new master plan for the city-owned Van Wezel and GWIZ properties, as well as adjoining private properties, such as the former Quay site. The plan, called Sarasota Bayfront 20:20, seeks to create a project that establishes a cultural and economic legacy for the city while also ensuring public access to the bayfront.
Visit Sarasota County Board of Directors Chairman Michael Klauber was hoping to receive a seal of approval from the commission at that meeting. During the meeting, staff was scheduled to provide an update and seek direction regarding the 2007 Cultural Park Concept Plan, a blueprint for the city-owned land that was quickly shelved in 2008 due to the worsening economic climate.
Although the commission praised the efforts of the private groups, several commissioners stated there was no need for the city to participate in the conversation at this point. Instead, the commission voted to take no action regarding the Cultural Park Concept Plan for at least 120 days in hopes that the ownership of adjacent properties — particularly the Quay — would be finalized before then.
Klauber said he was happy with the reception the plan received at the meeting. He said the project was still taking baby steps forward, and that he believed the groups would ultimately get buy-in from all interested parties.
“The goal is to create a true public/private partnership and to allow some of the bright minds in our community to think about the big picture,” Klauber said.
Leaders of several of the organizations involved with Sarasota Bayfront 20:20 spoke to the Sarasota Observer about what they would ultimately like to see developed on the land in question.
President & CEO, Economic
Development Corp. of Sarasota County
“From the EDC’s perspective, art has always been a huge driver of economic activity in our community. Not just for the arts community itself, but as part of what makes our community attractive to businesses and the talent that drives businesses. Our interest was in that, as the economy improves and there are opportunities in and around the Cultural District to move it forward, our community would get engaged and really help accomplish the highest outcome possible for the Cultural District and that part of our region. We really got involved purely seeing it as one of the elements of our community that drives economic activity.”
Executive director, Arts and Cultural
Alliance of Sarasota County
“Obviously, between the Van Wezel and the GWIZ, as well as other properties — the Players Theatre which abuts this — there are so many implications for arts and culture here, and we feel this property is crucial to the cultural future of the area. We hope we can work collaboratively with the government and the business community to focus on what could be an iconic branding and realization for this community for 100 years to come. We would love to see a usage that would center around our cultural assets and also incorporate other things — whether it’s retail or galleries or shops — that could make that area an iconic cultural identity for Sarasota.”
Director of community investment, Gulf Coast Community Foundation
“You really don’t get a world-class destination by doing individual planning exercises, but by a cooperative and comprehensive planning initiative. We have visited, as part of the inter-city trips, the most successful of projects like this. When one goes to one of these — Baltimore, Nashville, Greenville, S.C., you just name it — you look at their waterfront development plans. Our bayfront amenity is just light-years ahead of what these other cities have made into world-class destinations. The only thing that stands between us and having one of the most quintessential world-class destinations as a city is a cooperative planning effort and a plan that has greater value with a collection of properties than the properties do individually.”
President/CEO, Greater Sarasota County
Chamber of Commerce
“The real estate professionals have a phrase called ‘highest and best use.’ I think, in one sense, that’s the opportunity for us: There are few places in the state of Florida where a bayfront or waterfront area of such beauty is adjoined to a downtown with all its other amenities. It really deserves the best thought going forward, and because it’s such an asset, there should of course be a continuing conversation about public uses — be those cultural, outdoors, park-like settings. I think the opportunity is there for some great public/private partnerships, because to do a good job or to help support facilities open to the public, private investment can help the whole area in a way that we’ll be proud of for decades.”
President/CEO, Sarasota Orchestra
“I think it’s been known widely for a number of years that the orchestra has continued to grow artistically and is a significant part of the community … The Sarasota Orchestra is an integral part of not only the cultural community, but of the entire community for the region, so to be thinking about planning and where the Sarasota Orchestra fits into that — it’s more than an investment in culture, it’s an investment in the whole community. I think there’s really two primary guideposts that everyone should employ. One is keep an open mind, and two is to listen. I think if we do those two things, there’s a good chance that we’ll end up with the right thing.”
Contact David Conway at firstname.lastname@example.org
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