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Sarasota Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020 3 weeks ago

Bayfront planners make progress on park site

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As it works with the city on plans for the first phase of the project, The Bay Sarasota has already begun some early work on the public property.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

The Bay Sarasota continues to advance a proposal for the first phase of a 53-acre public park on city-owned waterfront land, meeting with city staff for an hour Wednesday to discuss the site plan for the initial 10-acre segment of the project.

The Bay, an independent group working with the city on the development and management of the land surrounding the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, has already earned commission endorsements of a master plan for the entire site and an overview plan for phase one. Still, it must secure more approvals before construction can begin.

That’s why, on Wednesday, representatives for The Bay took in comments from city staff asking about topics including the planned activities on the park site and anticipated parking needs. The Bay intends to address those comments in a revised phase one site plan that will ultimately advance to the Planning Board and City Commission for review.

The plans might be at an advanced level of detail, but Bill Waddill, The Bay’s chief implementation officer, said the vision hasn’t really changed since the city approved a higher-level proposal for the site in September. The plan for the first phase, located mostly north of Boulevard of the Arts and south of the Van Wezel, includes an open-space lawn, a circular boardwalk over the water at Boulevard of the Arts, a food and beverage pavilion and a mangrove-lined inlet.

One new aspect of the proposal detailed in the site plan is a series of shade structures designed using architect Walter Netsch’s “field theory,” a nod to the design of the former GWIZ building that previously stood on the bayfront site. The design is incorporated into “reading room” next to a wall that remains from the building, which originally served as the Selby Library. The shade structures are also located on the boardwalk, at the food and beverage pavilion and on the lawn.

Waddill said the designs drew a positive reaction at a board meeting The Bay hosted and a Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations meeting Saturday.

“I literally got ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ as I was going through the slides,” Waddill said.

The Bay’s plans aren’t receiving unanimous acclaim, though. A group of residents from Condo on the Bay continue to object to the phase one proposal, particularly the placement of the boardwalk and the creation of a drop-off zone near the residential building at the end of Boulevard of the Arts. The condo has hired an attorney who has sent a letter questioning the sufficiency of the plans The Bay submitted, and residents have reached out to city officials to share their issues.

“We are very concerned with how the park will be permitted to be used and about resulting noise, waste and potentially hurtful activities,” residents Jeffrey Rose and Jill DiSalvio Rose wrote in a January email to city staff.

Waddill said The Bay will continue to work with and listen to neighbors as the plans advance, but he also said the group would not change its plans to accommodate the objections of a small group. Waddill noted The Bay went through a lengthy engagement process to produce its master plan, and the group intends to present a plan to the commission that represents the totality of the input it received.

Even before earning final approval for phase one, The Bay has already begun the process of improving the bayfront site. Last month, the group celebrated the opening of a fountain garden near the Blue Pagoda building where The Bay is headquartered. And on Jan. 31, the group broke ground on a mangrove bayou walkway expected to be completed later this year. (See page 16 for more on the groundbreaking.)

There remains more work to be done, but Waddill is encouraged about the headway The Bay continues to make.

“It’s really nice to be able to have some of these little early phases open so people can see we’re making progress,” Waddill said.

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