Thanks to the voices of 50,000 individuals and the efforts of volunteers, The Bay park initiative is on the verge of a remarkable, first-of-its-kind achievement for the city of Sarasota.
It’s always useful in the midst of an important undertaking to take a step back and assess the landscape from a 30,000-foot view.
When I do that for The Bay park initiative, here’s what I see:
We’ve come a long way together as a community and as a city. Much has been accomplished by a three-way partnership and open dialogue among Sarasota citizens, City Hall and a succession of citizen volunteer organizations (Bayfront 2020 coalition, Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization and now, The Bay Park Conservancy. We are now one step away from beginning to realize the creation
of a signature, landmark park on Sarasota Bay.
Just five months ago, the City Commission unanimously approved a master plan to transform the most precious property in the city from mostly a parking lot into a beautiful park. The commission also approved moving ahead with implementation of the first nine acres of green space and park land. Both the Coalition of City Neighborhoods Association and the 60-member Bayfront 2020 stakeholder coalition endorsed the plans.
All of that is quite remarkable when you think about what often can transpire in Sarasota city government and what has been accomplished together thus far. Consider:
• We have conserved, preserved and protected 53 acres of bayfront city land for public use in perpetuity. The park, when complete, will be the first signature park in the city’s history that will have a broad range of activities and be an accessible, community gathering place for all.
• The Bay park will be the only major amenity in the city of Sarasota that will be open, accessible, free and welcoming to everyone in the community. The park will become a common ground, a gathering place where the full diversity and richness of Sarasota’s community can come together for a wide variety of activities and experiences now and for generations to come.
• The design and plan are the result of an unprecedented collaboration and dialogue involving more than 50,000 individuals.
• City commissioners, city management and staff have partnered throughout in this cooperative and collaborative process — the first of
its kind in Sarasota. Every step of the way, the process has been deliberate, focused, disciplined and transparent.
• This effort has and will continue to be a community-led initiative carried forward one step at a time by citizen volunteers who stepped
forward when called to offer their experience, energy, talent and time to advancing the initiative.
• This initiative has been funded so far entirely by private sources, major foundations, family foundations, individual philanthropists and citizens who believe in the unique, community aspect of the project.
• The plan for the exciting first phase of the park includes restoration and preservation of coastal wetlands and mangroves, a sunset
pier and a living, learning park laboratory where the community and the Bay Park Conservancy can begin to experiment with a full range of activities and experiences — open-air arts, culture and education; fitness, health and recreation; and more to bring the park to life with uses the community wants.
• The Sarasota Bay Planning Organization “sunsetted” as it completed the planning work it was tasked to do. The Bay Park Conservancy was then established as a not-for-profit organization of citizen volunteers to create, fund, develop and manage the park for the benefit of our community.
The current conversation — and frankly, the most constructive, productive and respectful dialogue — is about a first-of-its kind agreement between the Bay Park Conservancy and the city. Planning organization and conservancy members studied partnership agreements and park conservancies across America for best working practices. They serve as the basis for our agreement.
An initial discussion with the City Commission to finalize this partnership agreement began Feb. 4 and will continue in public meetings
March 18 and April 1, at which time city commissioners will vote whether to move forward with the longer-term agreement with the Bay Park Conservancy.
We urge residents to attend these sessions to share their support for the agreement and keep us moving forward with the Bay park.
Aspiring to a higher vision, charting a new course with an ambitious plan, doing things in a different way with mostly citizen volunteers … None of this is easy, but it can result in extraordinary outcomes that the community and city could never achieve on their own.
Now it’s time to take this next important step together. Let’s turn possibilities into realities and build a great park to help make Sarasota an even stronger community and an even better city.
A.G. Lafley is CEO of the Bay Park Conservancy and served as chairman of the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization. Lafley is former chairman and CEO of Procter &Gamble. He is a resident of Sarasota.