The Bay: Community in Action

Guest Correspondence


A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is before us. How do we, as a community, want future generations to enjoy 53 acres of beautiful bayfront in downtown Sarasota? That’s the question—and responsibility—at the heart of the community-driven initiative to craft a master plan for this unique assemblage of public property collectively known as The Bay.

As with any big project, opinions will differ, emotions may run high and some decisions won’t be easy. But what’s special, perhaps even unprecedented, about this effort is the open, disciplined and fully documented community-engagement process that is guiding it.

Thank you to the volunteers of the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization and to the citizens and community-based organizations that have committed their time, imagination and money to move this important project forward. I also appreciate my colleague Jon Thaxton’s leadership in championing transparency and inclusiveness from the beginning.

Just this past week, the SBPO and team members from Sasaki, the world-class firm it hired to develop The Bay’s master plan, shared preliminary concepts for realizing the area’s full potential as a natural, cultural and regional asset. It was the latest step in a methodical and accessible public-engagement process to articulate and execute a shared community vision for the future of this extraordinary place.

Community members could attend three open houses, a moderated forum and a public board meeting of the SBPO to learn, ask questions and weigh in. It wasn’t about simply “voting for a winner” among Sasaki’s three initial concepts, either. Residents could fill out a comprehensive “scorecard” to tell the planners all that they like (or don’t) about each design, what they think is missing and why. And they still can: an online version of that scorecard is available at through next Saturday.

Sasaki’s design team will synthesize all of that input to identify and combine the best elements of each concept—along with new ideas—before creating a draft master plan. Our community will see that draft next month, again at a public meeting, with further opportunity for feedback. It all drives toward the presentation of a final master plan for review by the elected public servants on the Sarasota City Commission. I trust you’re seeing a pattern here: open, public, input.

Almost 100 years ago, renowned urban planner John Nolen wrote this about the sweeping Sarasota Bayfront: “The attractiveness of this spot drew the original settlers, and today it is still the city’s greatest asset.” Consider how much our region has changed since then, yet how true this statement remains! It’s a vivid reminder of the truly historic opportunity we have to shape The Bay’s future to ensure sustained access and enjoyment by all.

If you want to be a part of history, there is still time. Visit The Bay’s website to view and comment on the design team’s materials and review the entire project’s journey to date. You’ll see that everything builds on the previous work of community volunteers, and each new version of the plan ties directly back to The Bay’s consensus-formed vision: “We support the creation of a long-term master plan for the Sarasota Bayfront area that will establish a cultural and economic legacy for the region while ensuring open, public access to the Bayfront.” 

At Gulf Coast Community Foundation, we say: “If it’s broken, fix it. If it’s beautiful, nurture and preserve it. If it’s possible, make it happen.” The Bay offers our entire community the rare chance to do all three of those at once. That’s an opportunity we can’t afford to miss.

Dr. Mark S. Pritchett is president/CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

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