For Klauber, the bayfront is all about dreaming big.
Despite years of advocating for the arts, Michael Klauber is not a man who enjoys the spotlight.
It’s a preference the organization Sarasota County Openly Plans for Excellence, or SCOPE, took liberty to ignore Wednesday at Michael’s On East when it honored Klauber, 62, with its annual Boundary Crosser Award.
Board Chairman Tom Tryon said, in a way, the name of the award speaks for itself. It honors a person who has stepped out of his or her comfort zone for the benefit of the Sarasota community.
“We have constantly seen a need to promote this kind of boundary crossing and to recognize people who are really good at it,” Tryon said.
Past recipients include Alta Vista Elementary School Principal Barbara Shirley, Ringling College of Art and Design President Larry Thompson and banker and political leader Christine Jennings.
“So that takes us to Michael,” Tryon said.
Since the inception of Sarasota Bayfront 20:20, Klauber has facilitated discussions with city neighborhood groups, Sarasota philanthropic entities and government officials in an effort to unite them in pursuit of a shared objective — developing 42 acres of bayfront property into what Klauber hopes will be Sarasota’s premier public district.
“This has been one of the most impressive community-led efforts I have seen,” Tryon said.
Despite his success, it’s not a role that came to Klauber naturally.
“I’m not a political person,” he said. “I’m not an elected official. I’m not in government. I don’t really know land planning. I didn’t understand all of the technical aspects of the bayfront.”
But what Klauber did know was how to bring people together. It’s a skill he’s employed in his restaurants and in former projects such as the creation of Sarasota Manatee Originals restaurant group.
“He is relentless in his optimism and his belief that people will come together for the community’s good,” President of Visit Sarasota Virginia Haley said.
Klauber founded Sarasota Bayfront 20:20 in 2013 after accompanying Haley on a learning trip to Nashville. He had recently taken over leadership of the Visit Sarasota County board.
While waiting for a bus with Economic Development Corp. and Chamber of Commerce representatives, someone mentioned the possibility of dusting off a 2006 plan to redevelop the bayfront. Klauber’s interest was piqued.
“For me, it was like, ‘Wow, nobody is looking at this in the big picture,’” he said. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”
He brought it before the board, and thus began what Haley called a whirlwind of neighborhood meetings and stakeholder discussions.
“Stepping from a leader in the culinary economy into this world of urban redevelopment — it’s an interesting process, because he has really used it as a learning process for himself and has taken a lot of us along for the ride,” Haley said.
Klauber said the process has fostered a better understanding and appreciation for Sarasota’s diverse community. But, Tryon said, it’s important to note that the journey wasn’t one that Klauber had to take.
“Michael didn’t need to do this,” Tryon said. “He’s got successful businesses and he has been out in the community. This was a step out of his comfort zone, a step out into the public appearing before the City Commission, ... I think that’s what really got everybody focused on this.”
As for Klauber, he said his efforts have afforded him the opportunity to think big.
“I love looking out ahead, and I rarely look back,” he said.
However, during the Sarasota Bayfront 20:20 outreach process, he took exception to that tendency to draw from Sarasota’s past. For him, it’s a history characterized by dreamers.
“John Ringling had the guts to take a fishing town and say, ‘I’m going to build this fabulous palace and a museum,’” Klauber said. “He dreamed of a cultural arts community back then when there was really nothing here.”
It’s inspired him throughout his leadership and given his advocacy perspective. He knows he might not see the end of the Bayfront initiative. His metric for success is generational — to create a place his grandchildren’s grandchildren are proud to call home.
“I want this project and this dream to be something our community is going to celebrate,” he said.