City officials approved the latest proposal for the first phase of The Bay Sarasota project, though additional planning work remains.
The Bay Sarasota continues to advance plans for the 10-acre first phase of a waterfront park near downtown after its latest proposal received unanimous approval from the City Commission.
The Bay, a private group working with the city to redevelop more than 50 acres of city-owned bayfront land surrounding the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, updated commissioners on its work at Monday’s meeting. The Bay presented a revised version of its proposal for Phase 1 of the park, which sits along Boulevard of the Arts on the southern portion of the site.
In response to community input, The Bay’s plans have evolved from those presented earlier in the summer. Planners modified the design of a circular boardwalk, reoriented the layout of a food and beverage service area and reduced the size of an open-space lawn from two acres to one acre, among other changes.
Based on 644 surveys The Bay gathered regarding the plans, the group found 83% of respondents said they were likely or highly likely to visit the proposed park — an increase from the response to the previous design.
“We think this is spectacular, that these modifications led from something that was lower before to now something that we feel has pretty broad support across the community,” said Gina Ford, part of The Bay’s design team.
Although the commission unanimously approved the proposed implementation plan, The Bay must gain additional clearance from the city before construction can begin. The Bay will now go through the city’s site plan review process, which will require the group to provide more detailed design information.
Some residents and officials still had questions about how the park might function — and how it could affect surrounding areas. Residents of the Condo on the Bay building at 888 and 988 Boulevard of the Arts have criticized some details of The Bay’s proposals, expressing concern about topics including the placement of the boardwalk and the adequacy of on-site parking.
The Bay leaders said many of those questions, including those related to traffic circulation, would be addressed during the site plan review. The Bay will be required to conduct an independent traffic study as part of that process.
Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie pushed The Bay to produce a policy for encouraging diversity and inclusion of local companies and laborers as the group moves toward the construction process. Although The Bay said it was complying with the regulations the city has in place, Freeland Eddie said she felt those policies are not strong enough. She asked The Bay to produce a more detailed plan before seeking final approval to begin work on Phase 1.
Other commissioners asked questions about how residents throughout the city would be able to access the park. Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown said staff would prepare information regarding neighborhood connectivity to present before the plans earn final approval.
The first phase is estimated to cost $20 million to $25 million. The Bay said it has already secured $11.5 million in philanthropic contributions, including a $1 million donation announced Friday from the Community Foundation of Sarasota County in partnership with an anonymous donor. That total does not include $3 million in matching donations the Patterson Foundation previously committed.
Bill Waddill, The Bay’s chief implementation officer, said the group hoped to obtain all of its necessary approvals by next summer and for the first phase to open by late 2021.
Several speakers at Monday’s meeting applauded The Bay’s work and encouraged the city to move quickly toward final approval. Roxie Jerde, president and CEO of the Community Foundation, was one of several in attendance who expressed excitement about the project’s potential.
“We think The Bay will bridge generations,” Jerde said.