The Bay Sarasota is preparing to finalize a proposal for renovating the bayfront in advance of a September presentation to city officials.
Based on input from nearly 1,300 people, The Bay Sarasota thinks it’s settled one of its last major siting questions as it develops a master plan for more than 50 acres of city-owned bayfront land surrounding the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
At a series of presentations in May, the independent group focused much of its attention on the north end of the site. Sasaki, The Bay’s professional planning consultant, believed there was community support for the majority of a work-in-progress plan for redeveloping the bayfront. The north end, though, was a matter that still needed to be resolved.
Sasaki developed two concepts for that portion of the property. One included a performing arts hall spanning the canal near Tenth Street. The other sited the hall on land and proposed a pedestrian bridge above the canal instead. The first plan kept the Tenth Street Boat Ramp in its current location; the second moved the boat ramp to the north.
The Bay Sarasota asked the community for feedback on the two options. At a board meeting Tuesday, Sasaki representatives said the results were decisive. On a five-point scale, the first plan had an average score of 2.7. The second had an average score of 4.0. Just like that, the group felt it had clarity on how to proceed with the northern segment.
This sort of approach is how The Bay Sarasota hopes to continue to address any remaining challenges as it works to complete a final proposal in time for a scheduled September presentation in front of the City Commission.
“Master planning is this process of sort of moving a ball down the field, where you’re trying to make incremental decisions that add up to something great,” said Gina Ford, lead designer with Sasaki.
There are certainly outstanding questions from the community. From the fate of the Van Wezel to the mechanics of funding hundreds of millions of dollars in renovations, The Bay is intent on addressing concerns before asking the city to adopt a master plan this summer.
In May, members of the City Commission asked for more information on what would become of the Van Wezel building if the bayfront were developed. Currently, based on input from the Van Wezel Foundation, The Bay is proposing a new performing arts center on the site. Initially, Sasaki proposed demolishing the Van Wezel facility, but revised its plans following community opposition.
Today, the group remains uncertain regarding the future of the Van Wezel. They’ve floated options, including repurposing the existing building or using the roof structure to create a new covered outdoor area. At this point in the process, the planners don’t believe a final decision is necessary to proceed with a master plan; it will be years before a new performing arts structure can actually be built if one is approved at all.
“Our sense is to leave it open-ended,” Ford said.
City Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie said she felt the city could not make a commitment to funding a new performing arts venue without more information on how much it would cost and how the Van Wezel would transition from one location to another.
“We just don’t have the tools, and it would be financially irresponsible for us to give direction — in my opinion — without having that conversation,” Eddie said.
As a result, The Bay has scheduled a June 25 workshop with the City Commission to discuss the future of the Van Wezel and Sarasota Orchestra on the bayfront. The Bay has taken a similar approach to addressing outstanding concerns from the boating community, holding a workshop Wednesday to specifically discuss how a master plan could incorporate the needs of boaters.
Sasaki is set to return with a more detailed draft of the master plan for presentations on June 25 and June 26. The Bay is hopeful those sessions will generate even more community feedback and produce a greater sense of certainty the plans reflect what residents want to see.
On Tuesday, city Planning Director Steve Cover served warned against placing too high a priority on unanimity. While it’s important to address community desires, Cover said there is also value in what he called “creative friction.”
He listed examples of iconic projects from around the world that drew criticism in the conceptual phase, such as the Sydney Opera House and the High Line in New York.
As The Bay hones a final master plan, Cover urged the group not to lose its ambition in pursuit of consensus. By way of analogy, he referenced the musical duo Simon & Garfunkel, arguing the musicians were unable to achieve the same quality in their solo careers because they benefitted from challenging one another.
“Let’s do ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water,’ not ‘Hop on the Bus, Gus,’” Cover said.