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Bayfront group unveils latest plans

The Bay Sarasota is firming up a plan for redeveloping the land around the Van Wezel, but several variables are still left to be finalized.

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  • | 2:00 p.m. May 21, 2018
The Bay Sarasota is moving closer to a final master plan, but some elements — such as the location of two performing arts venues — remain fluid.
The Bay Sarasota is moving closer to a final master plan, but some elements — such as the location of two performing arts venues — remain fluid.
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The group developing a master plan for more than 50 acres of city-owned bayfront land believes it’s already identified some core components the community wants to see on the site.

Those components include the creation of public parkland, expanded cultural offerings, establishment of a connection to the bayfront across U.S. 41 and more. On Monday, representatives for The Bay Sarasota outlined the latest draft of a vision for incorporating those elements into the waterfront property.

Presently, the master plan proposes building a pair of performing arts centers toward the northern end of the property near Tenth Street. The planning group hopes to create a food and beverage district along the canal where the Tenth Street Boat Ramp is located. Parking would be largely centralized in a two-level, 1,800-space garage buried beneath a public park in the middle of the site.

The plan also includes an inlet at the south end of the site with community recreation space, kayak launches and a mangrove edge along the water. A series of three pedestrian bridges works to link the site to surrounding areas.

Gina Ford, the lead designer for The Bay’s planning consultant Sasaki, said the master plan is in a transitional phase right now. Although the group has consolidated three preliminary concepts into a single plan, there are still major questions — particularly pertaining to the north end of the property. Sasaki has developed two options for how to handle that segment of the property.

The Bay Sarasota is seeking community input on two alternative options for redeveloping the northern end of the bayfront site.
The Bay Sarasota is seeking community input on two alternative options for redeveloping the northern end of the bayfront site.

Originally, one of the concept plans proposed building a new performing arts hall spanning over the Tenth Street canal. Based on community feedback provided during the past month, the planners already decided to split the single venue into two separate buildings. Now, The Bay is asking the public to share their thoughts about whether one of those facilities should be built above the water or if both should be constrained to the land.

There are other siting variables that must be addressed. The future of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall is uncertain. The Bay suggested the building could be repurposed or reconfigured into an open-air pavilion, but representatives for the group said any decision will be left for city officials to make.

In general, though, the group believes the plans are moving quickly toward a final product. The Bay Managing Director Bill Waddill said he’s sensed a positive attitude from residents throughout the visioning process.

“I feel like we’ve got an amazing amount of consensus about a majority of the elements in the project,” Waddill said.

Monday’s presentations, held at the Van Wezel, also focused on strategies for funding a new bayfront district. That includes both initial construction costs and a long-term plan for managing the land.

Susannah Ross, a senior associate with Sasaki, offered a preliminary outlook on how a project might be funded, should the city adopt the master plan. The Bay representatives have said the development of the site would likely rely on a diverse mixture of sources.

The presentation largely affirmed that approach. Ross highlighted a mixture of public funding — including “value capture,” or the use of tax revenue from the area surrounding the project site — and private contributions as possible sources of money.

Consultant Kathy Blaha discussed the options for managing the site once a master plan is in place and the property starts to develop. Blaha said similar public spaces nationwide are managed by public-private partnerships. Those partnerships are able to use private funding to provide programming on the site and enhanced maintenance, while the public can retain a stake in the decision-making process to ensure the land serves a community interest.

Ross said sources for funding ongoing operations could include local government budgets, continued value-capture mechanisms, private contributions and earned income from activity on the site.

Waddill said The Bay is leaning toward recommending the creation of an independent nonprofit to govern the land, but that — like other factors — is not set in stone yet. The Bay is scheduled to present a final master plan to the City Commission in September.

The Bay will provide an update on the planning process to the city at a meeting today, and the group will hold another presentation at the Municipal Auditorium at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. Tomorrow’s presentation will be available to stream on The Bay’s Facebook page. The information from today’s presentation is available online, as is a survey seeking input on the latest plans.

Sasaki planners will return to Sarasota to present a finalized draft master plan at another round of meetings in June.

Even if the commission adopts the master plan in September, some questions about the future of the site will remain unaddressed. That’s by design, Ford said. It may be years before it’s clear what, precisely, will happen to the Van Wezel building. For now, The Bay is focused on providing the outlines of a plan that reflects the public’s wishes for reimagining the bayfront.

“We always try to make these plans more of a framework,” Ford said. “It’s something that can embrace a little bit of change and still meet the community’s aspirations.” 


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