The future of the Bay is being shaped right now.
By Gina Ford | Guest Columnist
Alexander Labrando’s recent piece on Sarasota in the Wall Street Journal, titled “A Florida Beach Vacation with Snob Appeal,” paints a flattering picture of this community – one that is a surprise to those, from elsewhere, who “discover” its unique and appealing blend of culture, climate and character.
As the lead designer for the Sasaki team leading the master plan for Sarasota’s Bay – 42 acres of waterfront property within walking distance of downtown and the burgeoning Rosemary District – I, too, am seeing and understanding this place for the first time. My initial impression is that Sarasota and its bay are not a surprising discovery being seen anew but instead a deep and layered palimpsest that represents many generations of intentional and iterative planning.
A palimpsest is a piece of paper that has been used and reused so that layers of writing — that erased and that still written — are visible, even as traces. As we look to understand the Sarasota community and the enormity of the opportunity of The Bay, we can describe the site itself as a palimpsest of Sarasota’s history. Each generation of Sarasotans has considered, planned for and left its mark on this site. Many of those traces are still visible today, markers of each generation’s greatest ambitions and ideals.
Did you know? In the 1930s, much of the site we know today as The Bay was actually under water. An emerging new district, defined by the New Deal-era investments in the Municipal Auditorium, a lawn bowling venue and the Sarasota Garden Club, graced the site’s front edge, along today’s U.S. 41.
Imagine when great fountains greeted visitors who came to the site to experience these new recreational amenities!
Did you know? In the 1960s, a legacy cultural plan for the Bayfront — led by disciples of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin School — reshaped the experience of the site. Inspired by notions of modernity, organic forms like sea shells, and aspirations to make Sarasota Florida’s cultural capital, the architects laid out a series of sculptural arts facilities within an abundant roadway and parking system. Imagine what it must have felt like to drive the long entrance road to a gleaming new Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall!
Did you know? In the early 2000s, a great new urbanist vision appeared through the work of the internationally significant architecture and town planning practice Duany Plater-Zyberk. This planning ushered in notions of walkability, density, connectivity and mixed-use development. Imagine the first experience of walking down Sarasota’s downtown streets, lined with thriving restaurants and businesses!
Looking forward, the question at hand as we begin this master planning effort is clear: What is this generation’s legacy contribution to this extraordinary and evolving palimpsest? What experiences can we imagine together? We will be seeking your ideas and input through a series of public open houses. These informal, drop-in events are structured to allow you to come, learn about the history of this important site and contribute your ideas about what a perfect day on The Bay would look like. We offer an invitation to imagine the possibilities for the future of The Bay. Please join us as we shape the site for generations to come!
Gina Ford is leading the master planning for Sasaki, the firm chosen to work with The Bay Sarasota.