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Bayfront group prepares for master plan presentation

On Thursday, The Bay Sarasota will go before the City Commission in hopes officials will adopt a master plan for redeveloping more than 50 acres of waterfront land.

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  • | 11:30 a.m. September 6, 2018
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UPDATE: At a special meeting Thursday, the City Commission voted to formally adopt the proposed bayfront master plan and proceed with The Bay Sarasota’s recommended first phase for developing the site.

Previously: The goal, all along, has been getting to “yes.”

Soon, The Bay Sarasota will find out if it has succeeded.

Today, an independent planning group will present its proposal for redeveloping 53 acres of city-owned bayfront land to the City Commission at a 5 p.m. special meeting. The Bay is hopeful the city will formally adopt the master plan, though commissioners have questions outstanding about the proposal and the process of actually implementing it.

A presentation from The Bay and planning consultant Sasaki is designed to answer those questions. The master plan calls for the creation of a new performing arts center, bayfront parkland, a restaurant district along the water and a pier extending above the water.

The proposal would reconfigure the 10th Street boat ramp, moving it to the north. Three pedestrian bridges would connect to the site above U.S. 41. The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall building would be maintained and repurposed for some other use, and the former Gulfcoast Wonder and Imagination Zone building on Boulevard of the Arts would be demolished.

The proposal, which emphasizes both the creation of public parkland and an enhanced cultural district, has been guided by more than four years of public input. Beginning in 2014, Sarasota Bayfront 20:20 brought together dozens of local organizations to outline the community’s goals for the future of the land. And more recently, The Bay has held a series of workshops to solicit feedback on master plan concepts.

The Bay's master plan was developed using community input, refined at a series of public meetings held this year.
The Bay's master plan was developed using community input, refined at a series of public meetings held this year.

“This initiative to transform the 53 acres on Sarasota Bay into an iconic city park, which provides a broadly desired range of uses, has been community-led from the beginning,” said the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization in documents included with Thursday’s agenda.

The presentation will also speak to the cost of implementing the master plan. Previously, the group has said the bayfront redevelopment could cost between $100 million and $150 million — a figure that doesn’t include the estimated $270 million to build a new performing arts hall.

Still, in agenda documents, The Bay expressed confidence the project could be funded and built over a 10-to-20-year period. The Bay recommends creating a new conservancy as the agency responsible for developing and operating the site. The land would remain in city ownership, but a not-for-profit conservancy would partner with the city to focus specifically on the bayfront, including procuring funding and managing the site once it’s built out.

The reason for creating a conservancy is so that organization could provide a level of attention that goes beyond what might be reasonable to expect from city parks staff.

“Conservancies are often deployed by cities to create and manage a central, signature park to meet the aspirations and needs of their community,” the agenda documents state.

The Bay said the city should work to draft an agreement that would outline the responsibilities of the conservancy, should officials pursue that option.

More detailed funding information is provided for the proposed first phase of the project: the development of a recreation pier along Boulevard of the Arts on the southern 10 acres of the site.

The Bay believes the southernmost portion of the site, outlined above, is a good opportunity to get a segment of the land active relatively quickly.
The Bay believes the southernmost portion of the site, outlined above, is a good opportunity to get a segment of the land active relatively quickly.

This area would include two pier structures, open space that could be reconfigured for hosting events and recreational programs, a kayak launch, a mangrove inlet, a pedestrian bridge, parking space and food sales.

“Most critically, Phase 1 will include programming to make the site active, fun, comfortable, safe and broadly attractive to diverse Sarasotans throughout the day and year,” the agenda documents state.

The Bay believes it can line up at least $15 million in funding to get a portion of this phase constructed by 2020 and the entire project complete by 2025. The proposal includes a minimum of $8 million in philanthropic contributions, $5 million via tax increment financing, $1 million from the tourist development tax, $1 million from state and federal sources and $500,000 in impact fees from new developments.

Although The Bay is encouraging the city to move forward with formally adopting the master plan, some concerns from officials and the public remain. At previous meetings, commissioners have asked how pursuing bayfront redevelopment would affect the city’s budget and financial decision-making.

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch has expressed opposition to The Bay’s decision to remove the GWIZ building and the Sarasota Lawn Bowling Club from the bayfront in the master plan. Representatives for The Bay said the public feedback the group received did not indicate a broad desire to preserve those tenants. Still, a group of preservationists is now campaigning to save the GWIZ building for some new purpose.

Those responsible for starting the community conversation about redeveloping the bayfront framed it as an opportunity to do something big, bold and ambitious. Today, city officials will decide if they’re comfortable moving forward with the vision The Bay has crafted.

For its part, The Bay believes the public is supportive of the master plan, and it’s attempting to convince the City Commission to advance the pursuit of a radical new look for the bayfront.

“Let’s take the necessary action steps together to transform the 53-acre city-owned site on the bay into a signature park for our city and our community for generations to come,” the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization said in a letter to the commission.

The full presentation for today’s meeting and additional backup material is available on the city website.


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