Sarasota Risks Losing Culture Downtown



City of Sarasota residents and business owners need to pay attention to a trend in the city. What attracted us, and continues to lure many tourists, to Sarasota is that it possesses many big city amenities (e.g., a museum, performing arts, an aquarium, a botanical garden) without the big city drive. Depending on where we live, we have the privilege of walking or biking to many of these attractions, and we rarely spend more than 20 minutes in the car, never on an interstate, when we have to drive to them.

Recently we have lost The Players Theatre and Mote Marine Aquarium; we may, and certainly deserve, to lose the Sarasota Orchestra; and, if Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ beauty was not so intrinsically linked to its location on the bayfront, based on lack of support from its neighbors, it would probably be in negotiations to sell to high-rise developers and to buy greater acreage in a more supportive community by now.

Over the last two years, Selby held over 15 meetings with its neighbors to solicit input regarding its master plan. In response to neighbors’ criticism of the original plan, it made numerous alterations to the plan, including maintaining an entrance and exit on U.S. 41 and reducing the size of the parking garage. These changes will result in $1.5 million in increased construction costs. Although $1.5 million is not a lot of money for many people in Sarasota, it is money that could have been spent funding science education programs and botanical research expeditions that would have benefited hundreds of people around the world as opposed to a few people down the block.

Despite these changes, some of Selby’s neighbors continue to oppose the master plan that is critical to Selby’s future. They want to deny Selby, a private landowner, the ability to provide sufficient parking on U.S. 41 for its visitors; adequately secure the second largest collection of preserved plant specimens in the world outside of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and a botany library with books dating back to the 1700s; and build a greenhouse complex strong enough to withstand a Category 5 hurricane and a restaurant that will provide an additional revenue stream making it less dependent on donations and grants.  

Selby does not aspire to become Disney World Sarasota; it simply wants to build infrastructure that will preserve Selby, both physically and financially, for generations of visitors. For the greater good, the City of Sarasota should ignore the protests of a selfish few. We cannot afford to lose another attraction.

J. Allison Archbold is a member of the Board of Trustees for Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.

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