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Sarasota Thursday, Jul. 19, 2018 1 year ago

Bayfront planners work on boating issues

The Bay Sarasota is collaborating with boaters to adjust plans for the Tenth Street Boat Ramp.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

The Bay Sarasota has produced a finalized master plan for redeveloping more than 50 acres of city-owned land around the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, though that phrasing may incorrectly imply the proposal is less flexible than it actually is.

“Final,” with regards to a master plan, turns out to be not particularly final at all. Representatives for The Bay said a certain degree of uncertainty is baked in. Situations change. Markets fluctuate. New opportunities arise.

Even if the city ends up adopting a master plan at a Sept. 6 meeting, which the independent planning group is hoping for, it will almost certainly be subject to some adjustments.

At this point, the biggest source of uncertainty is the 10th Street Boat Ramp. The existing master plan calls for the boat ramp to be relocated to the north, building restaurants around the canal into which boaters currently launch their watercraft.

Those plans have been met with skepticism from the boating community. Sensing significant concern at a June 6 meeting with boaters, The Bay worked to set up a working group to further explore the outstanding issues.

On Tuesday, The Bay held its first meeting with that working group. During a nearly two-hour session, around two dozen boaters outlined their concerns about the prospect of changing the configuration of the boat ramp. At the same time, the group also discussed the potential for enhancing the boat operations in the area, beginning what The Bay hopes will be a long-term conversation about improvements targeted at that community.

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The Bay Managing Director Bill Waddill discusses the master plan at a meeting with boaters Tuesday.

The boaters are worried about several topics. They’re concerned The Bay project will reduce the size of the existing boat ramp facility, which they say is already too small for demand. They say a proposal to relocate the ramp itself is not ideal for the boating conditions, and that the construction necessary could affect the environment along the bay.

There are fears related to access to the site, particularly as construction of roundabouts at 10th Street and 14th Street has impaired boaters’ ability to get to the ramp. And there is some anxiety that the constraints that currently exist will only become more pronounced if the bayfront becomes an enhanced destination for people throughout the region.

Bill Waddill, The Bay’s managing director, is cognizant of all those concerns. And yet, he’s optimistic the boating working group has embarked upon a productive dialogue that will produce a positive outcome for all parties involved. He believes the boaters trust The Bay is operating in good faith and that the planners stand by their commitment to either maintain or improve the operations of the boat ramp.

“I heard tonight enthusiasm about the possibilities: Can we expand the number of ramps, can we have more parking, can we have better facilities, can we have better restrooms?” Waddill said after Tuesday’s meeting. “We heard all sorts of those ideas.”

Dana West, a boater and environmental consultant involved in the working group, shared Waddill’s optimism. He said The Bay appeared to be receptive to guidance from the boaters, who were able to provide firsthand experience and specialized expertise regarding the dynamics of a boat ramp in the area.

He thinks any issues with the initial concepts were borne of naivety rather than malice, and he’s hopeful a better solution will be reached.

“I think it was incredibly important and incredibly constructive,” West said of Tuesday’s meeting. “I saw a lot of ‘aha’s last night, in terms of, ‘That makes a lot of sense; that’s something we need to look at.’”

He said The Bay and the city should view the ramp as a community resource, heavily used by both commercial and recreational boaters.

“We don’t want to lose that,” West said. “It’s used by and valuable to such a wide spectrum of people.”

Waddill said The Bay will continue its dialogue with the boaters even after the Sept. 6 meeting with the commission, intent on producing a plan that will adequately address the input from that community.

“I think it will continue to get even better,” Waddill said.

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