Will the town get a community center? A cultural center? A community/cultural center? Separate community and cultural centers?
The Longboat Key Town Commission has not decided — but that’s not because of a lack of discussion.
Both Bayfront Park and a proposed town center in the Bay Isles area have been the talk of the town in recent months.
In August, the town hired the firm Tindale-Oliver & Associates to design plans for a town center and will hold public open houses to discuss concepts by the end of the year. The town also held an Oct. 30 open house to gather feedback about what residents want at Bayfront Park.
Although Bayfront Park has been discussed as a potential site for a future community center for more than a decade, a 2013 report by an Urban Land Institute (ULI) panel included these suggestions:
• Complete the town center at the center of the community.
• Locate the community/cultural center at the town center.
• Upgrade amenities at Bayfront Park.
Bayfront Park has been a divisive subject among Key residents. Voters rejected issuance of a bond to build a community center on the property in 2004.
The town has held off-and-on discussions since then about how to develop the property. In 2007, Sarasota County purchased a parcel adjacent to the property. The town and county drafted a plan in 2009 and updated it in 2012.
Madelyn Spoll complained to the commission at its Oct. 6 meeting about the frequent discussion but lack of action on Bayfront Park.
“How about talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words,” she said.
Mayor Jim Brown, who chaired the town’s Community Center Advisory Committee in 2003 and 2004, told the Longboat Observer last month he would like to see a community center at Bayfront Park and a cultural center in a future town center that would have features such as a black-box theater.
Although the commission plans to proceed with building new amenities at the park without a new building for now, commissioners made it clear at their Nov. 3 meeting that the community center remains a possibility.
“I’m not going to die until it gets built,” Mayor Jim Brown joked.
“You’re going to live a long time,” Commissioner Lynn Larson responded.
The latest group to sound off on Bayfront Park is the Rotary Club of Longboat Key, which has asked for an unleashed dog park on the property. The most recent concepts for the property include a kayak launch, pickleball and shuffleboard courts, small and large dog parks, a pavilion and pier, picnic areas and trails.
Commissioners broke into laughter at the Nov. 3 meeting when Brown asked Town Manager Dave Bullock if he understood their direction on the park.
Bullock said staff would bring back a summary of public input with the designer’s comments. The commission will then make final changes.
“It will go out to bid, and some contractor will build a park for the town,” Bullock said.
The Urban Land Institute Implementation Advisory Committee found widespread support for the following amenities at Bayfront Park:
• New recreation building
• Safe entrance
• Children’s area/playground
• Picnic area
• Covered pavilion
• Bocce ball
• Kayak rentals, storage
• Fishing pier
• Shuffleboard courts
• Multipurpose field, with baseball
• Performance/gathering/multiuse sports court
• Exercise stations
• Track for running, jogging, walking
• Basketball court
• Flexible event space
• Exercise/fitness classes
• Technology hub
• Craft making area
• Bicycle facilities