Balsley Presents Power of Waterfront Parks

Planning

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY MAR 20, 2015

As Sarasota looks toward the future of its Bayfront, reknowned landscape architecture and urban design expert Thomas Balsley stressed leaders here should think of their grandchildren's needs and not just their own. When he has conducted charrettes in other cities regarding waterfront parks, he said maintaining that purpose ensured parks were created that could boast a lasting legacy. "People were willing to let go of their prejudices for the sake of their grandchildren and the future," he said.

Balsley spoke to a Sarasota audience Thursday as the keynote speaker at SB2: Regional Waterfront Development, the most recent installment in SRQ Media Group's ongoing panel series. The architect brought with him photographs and conceptuals drawings for projects he has overseen across the country, from waterfront parks on the Hudson and East rivers in New York City to the beloved-within-the-state Curtis Hixon Park in Tampa. Each project offered a different lesson for this community. Patience was required on the Hudson River, where a park that was planned and approved in 1991 that stretched underneath an aging elevated highway. A tunnel is in the works to redirect the road under the park, and 24 years into the project, Balsley still waits to see that plan completed. As for Curtis Hixon Park, Balsley felt some achievements there could be especially useful as the Sarasota 20:20 group and a diverse group of city leaders plot the future of a cultural district fronting Sarasota Bay. The Tampa park's reinvigoration required a relocation of a cultural institution (the Tampa Museum of Art) to better improve public access to the park, and lessons there may well apply as a master plan comes together in Sarasota.

Balsley's "21st-century parks" also demonstrated in many cases that commercial revitalization can occur around properties while preserving large swaths of publicly accessible green space in civic environments, seemingly striking a balance that Sarasota 20:20 looks to achieve here.

The SB2 event also included a panel with local speakers, including Michael Saunders and Company President Drayton Saunders representing the Bayfront 20:20 group, as well as Realize Bradenton Executive Director Johnette Isham and Bradenton Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Dave Gustafson, present to discuss waterfront redevelopment in The Friendly City. Saunders stressed that the Bayfront discussions in Sarasota, which to date have produced a vision statement and guiding principles already endorsed by the city, provide a forum for more inclusive discussion and have steered away from the endless debates that mark other community conversations. Gustafson said successes with the Bradenton Riverwalk have spurred commercial investment in downtown Bradenton at a stellar pace, and Isham said the Riverwalk has branded the city and provided a connectivity to cultural institutions around downtown, including the South Florida Museum and McKechnie Field.

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