Bayfront Visions Move Ahead



The Bayfront by Downtown Sarasota has long frustrated planners and business leaders alike. While a few institutions, most notably the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, make solid use of the Bayfront, the fact much of the space is dominated by parking lot stings for those who have dreamed of a cultural district in the place.

Now the drive to bring the Bayfront to life has once again picked up in terms of enthusiasm, but the final results of what gets built there remain an open question. The Sarasota Bayfront 20:20 plan has moved forward with a City Hall-sanctioned visioning effort to master plan the area, and a group called Sarasota Tomorrow has started forwarding its own vision, hosting an event Friday to showcase its hope for a hotel development there. Others, of course, note that a who cultural district master plan remains on the shelf, stifled by the Great Recession but a product of significant effort and cost nonetheless.

At a city meeting today, Michael Klauber, chairman of Visit Sarasota County, hopes commissioners will adopt a process for visioning. Klauber has been a central force behind the Sarasota Bayfront 20:20 plan. "The commission sees the community gathering around this," he said. "It's a grassroots effort to tune into what the community is looking for." Since the city owns more than 40 acres of the Bayfront, their involvement is critical, Klauber said. In Klauber's eyes, the next step should be a community workshop on how major organizations should use the property, and such institutions as More Marine Aquarium and the Van Wezel Foundation are engaged in the effort as well.

At the same time, a Bayfront Now group hosted an event at the Francis on Friday to push a plan to "create, and fund, a world class bayfront promenade, amphitheatre, aquarium, and education and meeting center—along with the parking to support new arts and entertainment venues." Chris Cogan, of Seven Holdings, expressed frustration at a recent City Commission meeting that one plan had already been made public by being anonymously given to commissioners, but that the early draft should not be misinterpreted as a final plan. The plan includes a place for Mote overlooking the Bayfront and a conference center closer to U.S. 41.

City Commissioner Susan Chapman said she felt the 20:20 plan was more transparent, but also noted some frustration that the city has never moved ahead with a $400,000 master plan. "It's fascination now that we could end up with three different Bayfront plans."

The City Commission meets today at 2:30pm.

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