The Bay says public input supports demolishing the Boulevard of the Arts building.
Despite an ongoing campaign to preserve the former Gulfcoast Wonder and Imagination Zone building, the group behind a master plan to redevelop the bayfront says the majority of the public doesn’t care about saving the structure.
Last month, the City Commission officially adopted The Bay Sarasota’s proposed bayfront master plan. The commission also approved a first phase for the project that includes the demolition of the GWIZ building at 1001 Boulevard of the Arts.
Even after that vote, however, architects and historic preservationists have asked the city to reconsider the future of the building. Supporters say the structure, originally constructed in 1976 as the Selby Library, has historic significance in the community. They believe the city has not enough to explore options for repurposing the building.
Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch, a leading advocate for considering preservation, has placed an item on the Oct. 15 commission agenda to discuss the GWIZ building. Ahearn-Koch voted against the proposed first phase of the bayfront project because she objected to the demolition of the structure. She brought up the topic again at the Oct. 1 commission meeting, unsuccessfully urging other commissioners to set up a new process to review if the building should remain.
“Conceptually, I’m in support, “Ahearn-Koch said of the bayfront proposal. “Very specifically, the demolition of the GWIZ building, I would like to see the community’s input. It’s not a minority of people, not a minority of voice at this point. There are really hundreds of people.”
Although the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization initially said it would remain open to any viable proposals for the GWIZ building as plans for phase one developed, a letter sent Tuesday attempts to cut short the effort to preserve the structure.
In the letter, the SBPO states there are a number of reasons the GWIZ building is slated for demolition. Vacant for six years, the property is in need of significant maintenance. Positioned close to the bayfront, the building is vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surge.
Ahearn-Koch provided city staff with 58 emails from residents regarding the GWIZ building, 50 of which were in favor of preservation. The SBPO said that pales in comparison to the segment of the community who said green space and open access to the water was a priority during the drafting of the master plan.
“Community input informed each decision at each stage during the process,” the SBPO wrote. “In surveying thousands of citizens, fewer than 30 were interested in repurposing GWIZ.”
If officials paused phase one to review options for the GWIZ building, the SBPO argued the city would be jeopardizing the future of the bayfront project.
“Many were skeptical of this project when we began, but through our engaging process, and the city’s approvals of the master plan, the public trusted that its collective dream was soon to be a reality,” the SBPO wrote. “If implementation is delayed in the very first phase of this project, how can trust survive?”