The chairman of the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization is eagerly embarking upon an effort to map out a redeveloped waterfront.
That’s how much time the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization is giving itself to develop a master plan for more than 60 acres of city-owned bayfront land. By June, the group hopes to present its recommendations to the City Commission for consideration.
That’s the stated goal, at least. SBPO Chairman A.G. Lafley doesn’t like to set firm deadlines. The former Procter & Gamble CEO knows unforeseen challenges could arise and thinks it’s more important to get it right than to abide by a predetermined timeline.
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t share the group’s ambitious spirit. Three years after the launch of a grassroots planning effort for redeveloping the area surrounding the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 2018 will see an intensive effort to finish the bayfront visioning process — and to get to work on making that vision a reality.
“If we really get this right, we won’t just propose a master plan,” Lafley said. “We will propose a phase one or even phase two of implementation, so we can get going.”
“If the design and the plan come in, and people don’t look at it and say, ‘That’s obviously better than what we have — and better for the greater good and longer term,’ then we won’t have met the aspirations of the community and expectations of the city”
The bayfront planning organization has many partners, including the professional planning firm Sasaki. Bill Waddill, formerly a senior vice president with Kimley-Horn, is managing director of the planning process. City staff is sharing technical information about the site; existing tenants such as the Van Wezel and Sarasota Orchestra are communicating their needs.
The general public is another important partner, Lafley said. The planning organization is trying to get input from all demographics, with the goal of making the bayfront a destination for a diverse mix of people.
Lafley sees the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization as a neutral arbiter — a group that engages all parties, but remains detached enough to make decisions without favor.
“We’re a catalyst, and we’re enablers,” Lafley said. “We’re, in the end, some level of objectivity.”
Sorting out the logistical, economic and environmental details will be a complicated process. But Lafley and the SBPO have honed in on a simple metric to evaluate their eventual proposal: Does the public stand behind it?
This effort began because a group of residents agreed the bayfront land was underutilized and could better serve the needs of the city. By this summer, the SBPO hopes the community can agree on a plan to change that.
“If the design and the plan come in, and people don’t look at it and say, ‘That’s obviously better than what we have — and better for the greater good and longer term,’ then we won’t have met the aspirations of the community and expectations of the city,” Lafley said.
This may be the year that yields real change in how the homeless problem is handled in Sarasota, if Ed DeMarco has anything to say about it.
Homeless initiatives that were started years ago are coming to fruition in 2018 at the helm of Ed DeMarco.
DeMarco was named Chief Executive Officer for the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness in August. The Suncoast Partnership was selected as the lead agency in Sarasota and Manatee counties’ new coordinated approach to solving the homeless problem in the area.
Prior to that, he was the organization’s interim director for five months.
“We’re going to be seeing a lot more aggressive approach in creating a crisis-response system,” DeMarco said. When he took the position, he made the decision to “go all out” to make a difference.
“It’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to happen overnight, but I believe it’s going to happen. We’re going to see a big difference in our community in the next year”
The first thing that will be noticeable in 2018 is the implementation of a Coordinated Entry System, which will allow organizations across Sarasota and Manatee counties to use one system to direct people in need to the best resources for them.
The system should be running in January.
By March, Sarasota County’s Quality of Life Ordinance will be in effect, which tightens regulations about camping in public parks and allows law enforcement to take homeless people to a designated shelter, instead of jail. The city implemented a similar ordinance in 2016.
While also directing the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, DeMarco attends meetings of the Continuum of Care — a sort of council of area stakeholders who work to create homeless solutions. His role and his agency’s is to be a resource to the council, and provide support and technical assistance.
DeMarco is optimistic that 2018 will be a year of noticeable changes and forward motion in the area’s homeless problem.
“This is a complex and difficult problem. But I think for the first time in a long, long time we have the community partners situated and working together in such a way to really make a difference in this arena. That’s important for people to know,” he said.
“It’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to happen overnight, but I believe it’s going to happen. We’re going to see a big difference in our community in the next year.”
In her new role as chairwoman for the Sarasota County School Board, Ziegler considers her "fresh eyes" an asset.
In December, her fellow school board members elected Bridget Ziegler as the chairwoman of the board for 2018. Now in the last year of her first term, Ziegler has been working to modernize some of Sarasota County Schools’ practices.
“To be chair at the end of my first term is exciting because I’m really able to, I think, implement things that with my fresh eyes and viewpoint, I’ve seen in my first three years,” Ziegler said.
Ziegler was appointed to the school board to fill a vacant seat in June 2014, and in November was narrowly elected to the seat for a full term. As a new mother at the time, she said having a then-1-year-old daughter gave her “skin in the game.” Her campaign centered around being the outsider, which is an idea that continues to fuel her work with the board.
“I think that it’s a tall task to go through every policy we have, but I think it will be completed by this school year"
She succeeds Caroline Zucker as chairwoman, who has been a board member for a combined 20 years since 1992.
In her first term, Ziegler’s big victory so far has been increasing the board’s transparency by broadcasting more of its discussions online and on television. And in the new year, Ziegler is focusing on a full review of policies for both compliance and execution — she wants to make sure that the district’s policies are up to date and being enforced.
“I know that’s pretty broad but you’ll see it, we’ll narrow in on certain areas definitely, as it relates to some financial and institutional practices,” she said.
Ziegler called the board “policy makers.”
“I think that it’s a tall task to go through every policy we have, but I think it will be completed by this school year,” she said.
When asked if she expects a lot of pushback from board members who, like Zucker, have been around for longer and are used to doing things in a certain way, Ziegler said she’s always optimistic.
“If it’s focused on the right things, any pushback I think is always able to be challenged,” she said. “If it’s in the best interest of our students and our community, then I welcome the debate.”