Sarasota Bayfront Plan: Our best way for culture to offset condos

Editor & Publisher

The beauty of the Sarasota Bayfront north of Fruitville Road comes in glimpses.

We see it when we pull into the Van Wezel. We catch shimmering views if we head down Boulevard of the Arts or drop a boat at the 10th Street ramp.

But how can that beauty be captured in all of its power and glory and transfused into a viable economic and cultural plan to shape the City of Sarasota for the rest of our century?


Swirling contention. interests

In many ways that is the challenge underway as the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization attempts to forge a logical, business-like approach in creating a Master Plan for the 42 acres the City owns along the Bayfront.

And as the process marches forward, fears, special interests, politics and opinions swirl around the topic of planning the Bayfront like so many Hurricane Irma’s ready to snap the effort before it can take root and bloom.

In short, the City of Sarasota failed to successfully implement a plan for the acreage over the past 30 years. It was once called the Cultural Arts District and that plan fell apart when the market collapsed in 2007.

But it really was not the market that stopped the progress; it was the City. Like Hamlet, the City was handed too great a destiny and walked and paced along the Cultural Arts stage until all progress extinguished like a flickering candle.

The City could not handle the ugly underbelly of dealing with the demands of Arts organizations along with the entitlements of some and desires of others.

The City could not figure out the traffic and parking.

The City could not reach any consensus on much of anything other than the fact that the 42 acres, which extend from north of the 10th street boat ramp south to the Van Wezel and then further south along the waterfront, is the most desirable land in the City and represents the greatest opportunity to create lasting cultural significance for the entire region.


As years go by…

It was years later that Michael Klauber and others started a grassroots effort and that morphed into the Bayfront 20:20 group and plan.

Out of that the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization was born. It has a nine-member board and has raised private foundational funds to underwrite a Master Plan that they say will be implementable and delivered to the Sarasota City Commission in the Fall of 2018. This initiative has the capability to become the most exciting development and progress in the arts and culture our area has seen in decades.


Nothing could be more important

Anyone who lives on Longboat Key or Bird Key or Lido or in Sarasota should be completely focused on what is happening. Nothing could be more important. This plan makes the rowing facility at Benderson Park resemble a glorified retention pond in scale and importance.

And the nine-member board is comprised of primarily civic and business leaders who have a track record of success in their respective fields. It is the closest thing we can have in today’s world to an aristocratic process yet with citizen input.

The one outlier on the nine-person board is City Manager Tom Barwin. Barwin sits on the board as the conduit to the City and his voice links the City Commission and the SBPO board.


Enjoy the honeymoon…

If you ask the City Commission or anyone involved in the process, we are in now the “wait and see game” relative to the Master Plan. We are also in the “everything is possible” period of the planning phase.

I have heard members of the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Board and the City Commission and others saying — “It must enhance the environment, further the cultural vibrancy and create a sense of place for all who come and for residents.”

When I hear that, I sometimes think, “It is a boat ramp and a parking lot right now — that bar is easy to reach.”

In many ways this is the honeymoon period. Only the most ardent oppositionist argues with a blank canvas. But one fact is worth placing a bet on — once the plan is delivered in a year and the City Commission gets its hands on it — it will be akin to watching third graders toss a Fabergé egg around the room while praying it doesn’t hit the floor.


Watch out for pesky vultures

The commission will have its usual default reactions. Some commissioners will fear there was no citizen input or reflection of their constituency.

Other commissioners will see aspects they want or don’t want and pick at the plan like fetid vultures tearing away and clawing at a porterhouse steak delivered at their doorstep.

Others will embrace it due to their envy of the powerhouse team that will have put the plan together and its fine air of competence and professionalism and marketability — they will think, “Our city staff could never have accomplished this level of work.”


We should be thankful

What I can say is that as a community we should be grateful that members of the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Board are willing to tackle this project.

We all have our biases. Mine is to see numerous arts organizations and tree-lined walking spaces with public sculpture at every turn connecting Downtown, east of the Trail and the communities to the north.

My bias is to not create tourist draws or any commercial development other than the possible ancillary use or partnership such as a restaurant within a performance hall or gallery.


Culture meets condos

We have to create an antidote to the massive condominium development that is underway.

We need open space and cultural concurrency. We are about to lose the Players Theatre to Lakewood Ranch — can that situation be altered and the landmark be drawn into the plan?

We need to not allow residential development to outpace the growth of the arts. The arts and the beach and the waterfront create value. Lakewood Ranch can be manufactured anywhere. Sarasota can never be replicated.


Our legacy

In short our prime assets in City of Sarasota are the arts and the waterfront. If successful, this project has the possibility of creating the perfect community for decades to come.

If successful — and the arts and cultural amenities are interspersed with endless open spaces and sculpture and walking and biking paths — we will have added immeasurably not only to the intrinsic value of property in Sarasota, but even more importantly we will make our fleeting lives together in the City that much richer and mare meaningful.

For many who come to Sarasota it represents the apex of their lives. We have all been and are drawn here by the inimitable beauty we all can see from our cars, from our roadways and for the wealthy from their condos and homes.

It is the right time to rip up the sweltering and mind numbing parking lots at the Van Wezel and create a legacy. A legacy where we all say — this is truly inspiring.




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1 Response for “Sarasota Bayfront Plan: Our best way for culture to offset condos”

  1. Steve Keller says:

    Don’t always agree with Reid’s take on issues but he’s got this one right. Going the cultural development route for this property is not only the right choice, it’s the least the City can do by way of a meaningful apology for “The Vue”. One monstrosity a generation is more than enough.


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