At a meeting Monday, the City Commission directed The Bay Sarasota to continue working with residents to refine its proposal for the first phase of the 53-acre park project.
A group of residents living near the project site expressed some concern about elements of the proposal that have changed since September, when the city officially adopted a master plan for redeveloping the land surrounding the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
The Bay leaders committed to engaging with their neighbors and listening to any public input. They also said they needed to balance the interest of residents living in the immediate vicinity of the park property with the interest of the general public.
“It goes back to: What is the project?” said A.G. Lafley, The Bay Park Conservancy’s founding CEO. “The project’s a public park, open and acceptable to all. Who does it serve? it serves everyone in the community.”
The Bay intends to return to the commission at an August meeting with a formal implementation plan for the 10-acre Phase 1 of the bayfront project.
The commission also directed staff and The Bay to work with county staff to develop proposals for creating a tax-increment financing district to help fund the park project — estimated to cost between $100 million and $200 million — and a new performing arts hall.
City and county commissioners have offered differing perspectives on the scope of a TIF district, which captures increases in property tax revenue from within specific boundaries. Where elected county officials want a narrowly-defined TIF used exclusively for bayfront park infrastructure, some city commissioners have expressed a desire to expand the boundaries and use revenues to invest in other parts of Sarasota.
Although some city commissioners Monday remained interested in considering a variety of options for how to use bayfront TIF funds, others cast doubt on the prospect of the county participating in anything that wasn’t dedicated to the park project.
“I think we’re going to be unsuccessful if we don’t narrow that focus to what’s needed in the park,” Mayor Liz Alpert said.