- January 21, 2022
For 10 days beginning Oct. 14, Sarasota residents and others will have the opportunity visit a new park nearly a decade in the making.
That’s when the Bay Park Conservancy will open to the public the first 14-acre phase of The Bay, a 53-acre bayfront site west of Tamiami Trail between Boulevard of the Arts and 10th Street. While the BPC is applying the finishing touches to the its 10 Days at the Bay celebration, it’s also looking forward to the second phase of park redevelopment, which will include the Canal District, Cultural District, Sunset Pier and Western Shoreline, all at a projected cost of $65 million.
Conservancy leaders last week met with the Bay Park Improvement Board, which is made up of two city and two county commissioners plus one appointee, to seek its endorsement of $48 million in tax increment financing revenue for phase two of The Bay. That revenue will be combined with $17 million in grants and private funds already secured by the BPC.
The board members — city commissioners Liz Alpert and Hagen Brody, county commissioners Nancy Detert and Christian Ziegler, and community member Jon Thaxton — unanimously approved recommending approval of the TIF financing, which will go before the Sarasota City Council for consideration on Oct. 3.
The city of Sarasota and Sarasota County created the TIF district in 2020 to capture increases in property tax revenue from within the district’s boundaries, setting aside those funds for capital improvement projects for redevelopment of the city-owned land that surrounds and includes the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. The TIF revenues may be used only for capital improvements at the park, a portion of a new Sarasota performing arts center, and bicycle, pedestrian and multimodal facilities within the district.
The funding will enable the BPC to complete the circle of a new and improved public park surrounding the Van Wezel — from the 10th Street public boat launch, along Tamiami Trail and the shoreline — by 2026 all with private donations, state grants and TIF financing.
And there appears to be plenty of TIF money rolling in, as Founding CEO A.G. Lafley told Detert after she asked what would happens if that revenue stream should happen to fall short of the annual bond debt.
“Based on the most recent county projection, we're running two-and-a-half to three times ahead of the original forecast just through the first three years,” Lafley said. “A lot of things can happen, but we're running $120 million ahead of the original forecast approved by the county and the city. There's a lot of development going on in this TIF district right now. Most of it is underway, so I would say the probabilities are that you're going to be running ahead pretty comfortably over the next five to seven years.
“The great thing about this TIF district is most of the value is driven by new development, not just by appreciation.”
In addition to 90 programmed events including live music, during 10 Days at The Bay visitors will experience densely wooded pathways, a new playground, a mangrove bayou and bayfront views. The “Blue Pagoda” has been renovated and serves as the BPC offices and a welcome center for guests.
A pedestrian bridge connects the first phase with the Van Wezel site, where a pathway leads to a bayfront platform with panoramic views of the Ringling Bridge, Lido Key and Longboat Key. A Japanese garden next to the pagoda has been uncovered and restored.
Construction of a shade structure and event lawn is still underway but is expected to be completed in time for the grand opening.
The cornerstone of phase two development is the Canal District, which will reactivate a vacant strip of land along the 10th Street docks with refurbished sea wall, food pavilion, day docks and waterfront dining options, all at an estimated development cost of $15 million. Anchoring the northern end of The Bay, Ziegler said the northwestern corner of the site is an ideal location for a waterfront restaurant, a rarity in Sarasota County.
Chief Operating Officer Bill Waddill said a dining is in the early planning stages and a restaurant at that location is a possibility, but cautioned the guiding principles for The Bay exclude intense commercial development directly on the water.
Along Tamiami Trail flanking Municipal Auditorium is the Cultural District, a largely passive space with a recreation lawn, event lawn, an art center and existing building restorations estimated at $20 million.
The Western Shoreline, providing waterfront connectivity between the southern and northern ends of The Bay, will include shoreline restoration and resilience, a multi-use trail and sunset views at cost of $15 million.
Finally, the Sunset Boardwalk, shown on original plans as a circular pier providing access from behind the Van Wezel and from phase one, has been redesigned as a crescent-shaped pier into bay. That’s because of environmental considerations raised by the Army Corps of Engineers. It’s estimated to cost $15 million.
That’s the future of The Bay, later phases including a planned replacement of the Van Wezel and reimagining the performing arts hall’s parking lot.
For now, phase one represents a decade of planning and development since discussions of The Bay first began.
“We've heard a number of times people say ‘I'm not getting younger and I'll be dead before I see this finished,’” said BPC Chair Cathy Layton. “But I think more that if you were 8 years old in 2013 when this project started, you’re getting ready to graduate from high school. We want to make sure that the kids and the families that we've promised this to are able in their youth to enjoy it.”
A public-private venture, The Bay is a community-led, $150 million project that will take 10 years over three more phases to complete. The Bay Park Conservancy, led by former Procter & Gamble CEO Lafley and former Kimley-Horn & Associates Senior Vice President Waddill, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit formed in 2019 to implement the master plan approved by the City Commission to conserve the public land for a signature park. The BPC entered into a long-term partnership with the city to fund, develop, operate and sustain The Bay.
Funding of the capital improvements and ongoing operations and maintenance was envisioned as a 50-50 partnership from the start. So far, the BPC has raised $55 million in grants and private funds.
“Our original plan was approved and included a business plan that was 50% public funds and 50% private philanthropy,” Waddill told the board. “We decided from the beginning to implement our first 14 acres with mostly private philanthropy, so when we cut the ribbon, we will have built all of that with about 90% private capital and about 10% government. So logically, in a plan that's 50-50, now we swing toward a higher percentage. We're estimating about 75% public funds through the TIF and then about 25% private philanthropy and grants. It's a logical progression from private to public, but it enabled us within five years to get this first phase open.”
Assuming Oct. 3 approval of the $48 million in bonds backed by the TIF, the matter will go before the County Commission the following week for requisite approval of the TIF revenue to reconcile the bond debt.