Our View

 

Our View

 

Date: July 31, 2014
by: Observer Staff

 
 

“I don’t know anybody who lives in Sarasota who wouldn’t want to embrace the concept that is being put forth for the bayfront.”
— Chris Cogan, principal, Seven Holdings, speaking of his group’s proposal for the Sarasota bayfront.

Let’s give credit to Sarasota developer Chris Cogan and his team for having vision and initiative in wanting to transform Sarasota’s bayfront into a great “legacy for Sarasota.”

We agree, the bayfront area surrounding the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center could be and should be so much more and so much greater than what it is. It has the location and potential to make an architectural and cultural statement like no other in Florida. And that statement can be and should be on the scale of extraordinary that we have in Sarasota’s gem: the John and Mable Ringling Museum. We even would argue for above that scale.

But, sorry, Mr. Cogan, we may be the only Sarasotans who don’t embrace your team’s Sarasota Bayfront Now concept — as we understand it, anyway.

The wow factor is missing. It’s Every City, USA: Conference center, hotel, restaurant, performing arts hall (an aging one at that) and … an aquarium, albeit Mote Marine.

But another aquarium? There already are 79 aquariums operating in the United States, and we know of one up the road in Tampa that doesn’t exactly help gin up enthusiasm for yet another.

Maybe a Mote aquarium makes sense. It, too, could take its attraction to higher levels.

But to accept the Sarasota Bayfront Now proposal as is would be a missed opportunity Sarasotans could regret for generations.

Dream bigger. Reach higher. Ad astra … To the stars.

Take a look at the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain (above). That’s dreaming bigger.

That 3.7 million-square-foot cultural, science and entertainment center is an architectural wonder that defines Valencia as a world-class city.

You can argue the Valencia government went too far — too, too far, as the sidebar below chronicles. Valencian taxpayers are paying a heavy price for the cost of the City of Arts and Sciences. Instead of the original $375 million that was projected; it ballooned to $1.4 billion — a horrible case of government mismanagement.

We can learn from Valencia how not to do it. But we can also learn from Valencia’s successes.

One of those successes was the selection and commission of noted architects: Felix Candela, a former architecture instructor at Harvard and the University of Illinois; and Santiago Calatrava, who designed the planetarium in the City of Arts and Sciences to open and close like eyelids.

Now that’s creativity. And that’s what Sarasota and Sarasota’s bayfront should strive to achieve as well. Larry Thompson, president of the Ringling College of Art and Design, campaigns and aspires to make Sarasota a center of creativity. This is the opportunity to make it so.

The city and the Bayfront 20:20 group, which is separate from Sarasota Bayfront Now, should draw in the world’s top architects with a competition. Have them compete to create a world-class vision for the city’s bayfront and the languishing Quay property nearby. One that melds a vibrant private-sector component with the not-for-profit cultural arts and recreational venues. Shoot for the stars, then make the impossible possible.

We can understand Cogan and his team’s eagerness to move forward now with their proposal. They say the stars are aligned — an aquarium and bayfront in need of upgrades, low interest rates, available financing and a strengthening economy.

But they’re premature. The bayfront is too important to be rushed.

What’s more, their efforts are creating confusion over the two groups — their for-profit team and Bayfront 20:20, composed of a wide swath of community stakeholders.

Bayfront 20:20 has recognized the monumental importance of this endeavor. It’s complicated and will require a process of collaboration and buy-in. By its nature, it’s not capable of moving as fast as the private sector. We would urge Sarasota Bayfront Now to join that conversation. There’s a higher priority to get it right than to get it now.

Valencians furious over the debt burden
We all know the cliche: Watch out what you wish for. In Valencia, Spain, taxpayers aren’t exactly in love with its spectacular City of Arts and Sciences — as evidenced by the excerpts below from Bloomberg Businessweek in June 2012:

Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences, a cluster of futuristic buildings designed by native-son architect Santiago Calatrava, was an emblem of civic ambition during Spain’s long economic boom. The complex, including an aquarium, museums and opera house constructed over the past 15 years, was intended to help Spain’s third-largest city become a world-class tourist destination.

Now the complex has become a symbol of profligate spending that has plunged Valencia into economic misery. After splashing out on everything from a yacht harbor to a theme park, the Valencia region is burdened with debt totaling 20% of its economy, a higher proportion than any Spanish region except Catalonia.

The regional government has cut spending so drastically that uncollected garbage is piling up in some Valencia neighborhoods, and the city hall briefly had its power cut off because of unpaid bills.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” says Vicent Ripoll, principal of a local elementary school that ran out of paper and other teaching materials after the government cut off funds. “This is due to the bad management of politicians,” Ripoll fumes.

Critics have even set up a website targeting Calatrava, a Valencia-born architect who has achieved global fame with such works as the Milwaukee Art Museum and the planned new World Trade Center transportation hub but who has been known to exceed his budget. The website, www.calatravatelaclava.com, translates roughly as “Calatrava rips you off.”

In a statement released to Bloomberg Businessweek by a representative of his office in New York, Calatrava said costs exceeded the original 300 million-euro estimate because local officials decided to expand the project significantly. He said the project had created 40,000 jobs, spurred other developments and attracted millions of tourists. “The country has seen a handsome return on this investment,” the statement said.

 

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