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Sarasota Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018 8 months ago

GWIZ preservation effort falls short

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Despite a campaign to save the former Selby Library building, a majority of the commission supports demolition.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

On Monday, for the third time in just over a month, the City Commission heard the pleas of residents who wanted the board to research options for preserving and reusing the former GWIZ building at 1001 Boulevard of the Arts.

And, for the third time in just over a month, the commission voted in favor of eventually demolishing the property.

In a 3-2 vote, the city affirmed its commitment to The Bay Sarasota’s master plan for redeveloping 53 acres of public bayfront property. The master plan does not include the GWIZ building, built in 1976 as the Selby Library.

Even after the city adopted the master plan in September, a campaign of architects, preservationists and residents has argued The Bay failed to properly consider the possibility of maintaining the structure. More than 1,200 individuals have signed an online petition to preserve the building.

Representatives for The Bay said the group conducted an extensive public outreach process with more than 46,000 points of contact over several months. The overwhelming majority of participants expressed a desire for open space and no interest in saving the building, the group said.

At Monday’s meeting, a group of five residents presented a concept for removing segments of the first floor of the building, making it a hybrid open-air and enclosed structure. The group estimated the changes could be accomplished for between $3.9 million and $6.1 million.

Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch, a leading advocate for considering preservation, said that proposal and others merited further examination. She said she did not see compelling evidence for demolishing the building and wanted to take the time to further study the city’s options.

“I understand how important this project is,” Ahearn-Koch said. “But it’s also important to get every step of this right, especially the first one.”

Bill Waddill, The Bay’s managing director, said the group had considered its options for the GWIZ building. He acknowledged it would be possible to change the configuration of the building, but he said that would drastically increase the expenses of the first phase of the project, which is expected to cost between $4 million and $8 million.

He said the footprint of the GWIZ building, which he estimated was between 15,000 and 20,000 square feet, was far too large for the three-acre park The Bay proposed as the first phase. And he said the uncertainty regarding the future of the project had already hampered fundraising efforts.

City staff also supported the proposed demolition. Planning Director Steve Cover said the design of the GWIZ building does not capitalize on its proximity to the water in the way an open-space park could.

“Sometimes in great design, voids are better than buildings,” Cover said. “I think this is a perfect example.”

Ultimately, the commission agreed, voting to set aside $200,000 to demolish the building. The majority of the board cited concerns about the long-term stability of the building and a desire to move forward with the bayfront redevelopment effort before casting their votes.

“I don’t want to jeopardize this project for this building,” Mayor Liz Alpert said.

Also at Monday’s City Commission meeting:

  • The commission took no action after discussing the possibility of installing on-street parking meters downtown. City Parking Manager Mark Lyons said the parking fund’s annual deficit of more than $630,000 would only increase if officials did not find a way to increase revenue.
    The board was split on the proposition of downtown meters: Commissioners Hagen Brody and Shelli Freeland Eddie opposed the concept, while Alpert and Commissioner Willie Shaw were open to the idea. Ahearn-Koch said she needed more information before she was comfortable making a decision, asking the board to revisit the topic at a future meeting.
  • The commission directed staff to draft an ordinance authorizing the creation of a special taxing district for parks and recreation services. The move is a precursor to a future conversation about the potential implementation of a park district in the city. A public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for Nov. 5.
  • The board approved a budget of $400,000 for artwork in the center of two U.S. 41 roundabouts at 10th Street and 14th Street.
  • The commission adopted a proposed zoning text amendment clarifying the procedures for providing notice to residents about proposed developments in the downtown area.

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