The Bay Sarasota wants to get all demographics involved in the process of redeveloping the bayfront.
There’s been a lot of attention devoted to an effort to redevelop a swath of city-owned bayfront land near downtown, but the leaders of that effort are still concerned about connecting with more people.
That’s why, just after the beginning of the year, The Bay Sarasota sent out an email specifically inviting young professionals to learn more about the planning process. An event held Monday was billed as an opportunity to meet A.G. Lafley, the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization chairman, alongside “like-minded Sarasotans.”
Not everyone in attendance turned out to be a young professional. There was, however, a broad range of ages represented. And there were other signs of the event’s target demographic — in lieu of a traditional question-and-answer session, the audience was asked to submit their inquiries on a website via their cellphones.
It’s all a part of a concerted effort to engage with the entire Sarasota community as The Bay Sarasota develops a master plan for more than 50 acres surrounding the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. Members of that effort have acknowledged that civic conversations in Sarasota tend to skew older, whiter and wealthier than the city as a whole.
The Bay Sarasota wants to complete a master plan for city consideration by June. To get to that point, the group is trying to gather as much information as it can to assess the will of the community. That means actively seeking out the thoughts of different demographics.
“The median age in (the city of) Sarasota is 45,” Lafley said. “That means half of residents are under 45. We’re going to very consciously pick times and places and forums that will turn out more of them, so we hear what their needs are. The same goes with different ethnic and cultural groups.”
Mimi Cirbusova, coordinator of the Sarasota Young Professionals Group, said members of that organization often find it difficult to get engaged with local issues. She said younger people want to lend their voices to important decisions in Sarasota, and she’s hopeful the bayfront planning effort will be an opportunity for younger residents to have a legitimate platform to share their thoughts.
“I think this is an opportunity to help people love their city,” Cirbusova said.
For those who might be cynical about the weight their opinions will actually carry, Lafley said input from the public will remain an important factor in the decision-making process. According to a preliminary schedule, the planners are in the midst of a 16-week stretch of gathering information and developing a list of options for the bayfront, which will then be subject to its own round of public feedback.
The goal is to make the bayfront a vibrant destination for the entire community, Lafley said. What that looks like is up to the public to decide.
“There is no plan,” Lafley said. “There is no design. We’re just beginning.”
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