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Selby details new master plan

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens released more details of its scaled-back redevelopment master plan.

Last month, Selby Gardens officials and representatives spent two hours showcasing a proposal that reduces a planned parking garage on the site from 75 to 45 feet and curtails some of the commercial activity that perturbed neighbors.

The most recent proposal describes a restaurant that will only be open during operating hours of Selby Gardens and the new plan reduces the size of the planned restaurant from 185 to a maximum of 110 seats. It also will be located at ground level instead of as a rooftop destination. Neighbors raised concern over noise emanating from balconies and unimpeded due to the height in the previous proposal.

“The Master Plan continues to be a vital chance to transform and realize the full potential of our beloved gardens, while also preserving our important history,” said Jennifer Rominiecki, president and CEO of Selby Gardens. “I’m thrilled to say we think even after downsizing the restaurant size and hours of operation, we believe the compromise Master Plan will allow us to sustain Selby Gardens for years to come.”

Last fall, the Sarasota City Commission voted 4-1 against a master plan that in addition to the 75-foot garage provided for a rooftop restaurant and event facility that would be open evenings and during hours when the Gardens were closed.

The compromise Master Plan includes a 40% reduction in the overall height of the building hosting a parking garage and retail space. The new structure will house a four-story parking facility and garden shop with a building height of 38.5 feet, reduced from last year’s 75-foot proposal. A 50,000-square-foot solar panel array on its roof will provide one megawatt of power, while a storm water management system will clean water used onsite and then return it to Sarasota Bay.

A 50,000-square-foot solar panel array on its roof will provide one megawatt of power, while a storm water management system will clean water used onsite and then return it to Sarasota Bay.

More than 100 residents and neighbors filled the commission chambers decrying the plan as incompatible with the neighborhood due to traffic and in both scale and its reliance on the commercial restaurant venture to provide what Selby called “fiscal diversity” for the organization.

The new plan situates the proposed restaurant on the ground floor adjacent to the garage building. In addition to minimizing the overall number of patrons, hours of operation would be limited to mirror the Gardens’ hours, to address concerns of evening noise and traffic associated with restaurant patrons.  Selby Gardens will own the restaurant with a percentage of net revenues reinvested to fund Selby Gardens’ mission

Although Selby says the proposal in the works is not a finalized master plan, the organization has declared it is no longer seeking a change to the City’s comprehensive plan. That issue of changing the comprehensive plan was spurred by the commercial restaurant agreement.

Residents at the meeting last month still expressed concern over traffic as well as the mass of the parking garage.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens will continue to define its plan as well as raise funds toward the eventual redevelopment. Selby officials say the aging infrastructure of the Gardens does not adequately house nor protect the expansive collection of rare plants. Additionally, Selby wants to eliminate the ground surface parking and through that consolidation create more space for exhibits. The tradeoff is the height of the parking structure and for some the expansion of the event facilities and capabilities on the site.

Timeline

The master plan will remain a three-phase project according to Selby. To date, Selby Garden trustees Jean Weidner Goldstein, Cornelia Matson and Pauline Wamsler have spearheaded the fundraising campaign, raising more than 80 percent of the funds needed to implement phase one. The three-phase plan is projected to take 10 years and cost $92 million – $72 million for construction and $20 million for endowment and operations. Of the $42.5 million needed to implement the first phase of the master site plan, $35 million has been raised.

The first phase of the master plan includes the Welcome Center, Plant Research Center, LEAF building, the multi-use recreation trail around the perimeter of Selby Gardens’ property, increased public access, and the historical restorations of Palm Avenue and the Selby House (already completed in 2019).

Later phases of the compromise master plan include a new greenhouse complex, a learning pavilion and improved, circuitous walking routes throughout the property as well as improvements to the historic Payne Mansion, home to the Museum of Botany & the Arts.

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