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The Bayfront Park Question

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  • | 4:00 a.m. October 15, 2014
Bayfront Park has a baseball field, tennis courts and playground. Its Recreation Center building is used for fitness classes and occasional meetings and debates. File photo
Bayfront Park has a baseball field, tennis courts and playground. Its Recreation Center building is used for fitness classes and occasional meetings and debates. File photo
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What do you want to see at Bayfront Park?

It could be one of the most-asked questions in town history.

And the town will hold an open house Oct. 30, to ask residents that question once again.

Madelyn Spoll urged Longboat Key Town Commissioners at their Oct. 6 regular meeting to quit holding meetings about the topic.

“How about talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words,” she said.

Spoll reiterated her frustrations to the Longboat Observer.

“To sit there and talk about it over and over is so frustrating for the citizens,” she said. “I’m not sure what they want to hear from the citizens.”

The site currently has a small playground, basketball court, baseball field and tennis courts. The 1,300-square-foot building is used for fitness classes and the occasional meeting or debate.

Over the past decade, debate has frequently surfaced about whether to place a community center on the property.

This time around, however, a few things are different.

The town could receive Sarasota County funding and has infrastructure surtax funds available for park improvements.

The town also has an October 2013 recommendation from an Urban Land Institute panel to place a community/cultural center in a future town center in the Bay Isles area, while upgrading Bayfront Park amenities.

Still, the park has a divisive history on the Key.

Mayor Jim Brown chaired the town’s Community Center Advisory Committee that recommended a new $5.9 million community center on the property in 2003. Voters rejected issuing a bond for the project in a 2004 referendum.

But Brown, who still supports a community center for Bayfront Park but believes a future town center should have a cultural center with a black box theater, believes an “anti-Town Hall” mentality prevailed when voters rejected the proposal in 2004, in part because the town had recently built a new fire station and Town Hall, both of which exceeded their budgets.

“Quite frankly, it got ambushed,” Brown said. “It was a well thought-out plan.”

The town discussed possibilities for the park again in 2007, after Sarasota County purchased a parcel adjacent to the property, and again in 2009, when it worked with the county to create a new park concept plan.

In 2011, the commission hired architect Lisa Wannemacher to combine the 2003 community center design with the 2009 park concept. The town held public workshops in 2012 to seek resident feedback about the park, but the commission opted not to appoint a new committee to explore park possibilities.

Ron Johnson, who was vice mayor in 2003, said he believes a community center would be an enhancement for the park but says consensus is difficult because many residents live in condos that offer recreational facilities.

“We have so many people here on the island who are here part time and only want to invest in their communities,” Johnson said.

During the last round of discussions in 2012, residents asked for amenities such as pickleball courts, a kayak launch and space to meet and socialize in a new building. The latest suggestion for the park comes from the new Rotary Club of Longboat Key, which wants the commission to consider a dog park.
Spoll said no matter what is proposed, not everyone will be satisfied.

“It feels like the commission wants so many people to put in their opinions that every time someone puts in a new opinion, it has to be discussed in another meeting for the public to be heard, then discussed in another meeting for the public to be heard,” she said. “You can’t keep discussing the same thing over and over.”

Brown, however, believes consensus is near.

“I believe there is a desire to build (the community center), and I think we’re about to embark on the beginning of that.”

Looking back: Bayfront Park
1994 — The town took over Bayfront Park Recreation Center operations.

March 2003 — After a group of residents circulated a petition in support of a community center, the Longboat Key Town Commission voted to establish a citizens committee to explore the possibility of a Bayfront Park facility. The committee later recommended a $5.9 million community center with a new 19,500-square-foot building.

March 2004 — Longboat Key voters rejected the issuance of a $6.4 million bond for the community center.

March 2007 — Sarasota County finalized the purchase of the 3.88-acre Albritton property adjacent to Bayfront Park.

Summer 2009 — The Sarasota County and Longboat Key commissions approved a concept plan for the park after holding public meetings.

May 2011 — The Town Commission authorized staff to develop a conceptual site plan combining the 2003 and 2009 concept plans.

November 2011 — The town purchased a 0.71-acre parcel just north of Bayfront Park.

2012 — The commission put plans for Bayfront Park on hold.

October 2013 — An Urban Land Institute panel recommended upgrading amenities at Bayfront Park but suggested placing a future community/cultural center in a town center in the Bay Isles area.

If you go
Bayfront Park Recreation Center improvements open house
When: 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 30
Where: Bayfront Park Recreation Center, 4052 Gulf of Mexico Drive



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