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Sarasota Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018 8 months ago

GWIZ preservation battle continues

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As the city moves to demolish the former Selby Library building, preservation advocates are exhausting their options to save it.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

Even though the City Commission had voted repeatedly to demolish the former Gulfcoast Wonder and Imagination Zone  building at 1001 Boulevard of the Arts, and even though officials warned him he was in danger of violating city code, Christopher Wilson was determined to propose the property for historic designation.

As vice chairman of the city’s Historic Preservation Board, Wilson found himself in an unusual position Tuesday. The Historic Preservation Board is an advisory body, ostensibly designed to provide recommendations to the City Commission.

But Wilson wasn’t willing to accept the city’s decision to demolish the building, and — despite the reported input of the city attorney — he thought the board was within its rights to begin the process of considering the structure’s historic significance.

“You’d be violating the code,” Planning Director Steve Cover said, cautioning the board against proposing the building for historic designation.

“I’m not agreeing with that,” Wilson said in response.

Ultimately, the board agreed to heed the advice of staff, declining to nominate the building for historic designation. But for at least a moment, Wilson seemed willing to push the limits of what city staff said was acceptable.

Tuesday’s meeting was a continuation of an ongoing dispute about the fate of the GWIZ building. In September, the City Commission approved the demolition of the building as part of a redevelopment plan for more than 50 acres of public bayfront land. Still, preservationists have argued the building merits saving.

The building dates back to 1976, originally built as the Selby Library. City staff said the building doesn’t meet the standards for historic designation for many reasons: It’s fallen into disrepair, it was substantially redesigned in 2001, and it’s not yet 50 years old.

Historic preservation advocates challenged that assertion Tuesday, sharing a Dec. 3 letter from the Florida Department of State that says the building meets the criteria for potential historic eligibility because of  its architectural significance. Representatives for the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation urged the city to reconsider its plans.

“Until the building is in mounds of rubble, it’s not too late,” said Erin DiFazio.

Despite the protests, city officials remain adamant the building will be demolished. Earlier this week, the city approved a demolition permit for the structure. There is a 10-day period for the public to appeal that decision.

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