Bayfront Plan Expensive But Promises Cultural Boost

Todays News


The master plan proposal for a cultural district overlooking Sarasota Bay could offer a new public amenity. It also promises to boost the arts economy in the entire region with the expansion of cultural institutions and the potential construction of a landmark venue overlooking the water. “It could create a new, iconic sense of place that will define the whole county’s image,” says Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County.

Consultants from Sasaki last week unveiled its master plan presentation at a pair of public events. The plan would leave in place the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, as well as beloved structures like the Blue Pagoda and Municipal Auditorium. It would also call for a new performing arts hall located just south of the 10th Street Boat Ramp, an expansion of the Art Center Sarasota, a waterfront drive, pedestrian bridges over docks and a multi-use recreation trail.

Lisa Berger, executive director of Art Center Sarasota, says the facilities there need to grow to make room for educational and office space, and because the cost of that growth would be substantially less than the creation of new venues, the improvements could happen early in the execution of a master place. “We could be doing many more things with this space,” she said.

Meanwhile, organizations like the Sarasota Orchestra have announced they will likely move their concert hall, offices and education facility to another part of town, a practical move that also could reduce risk that comes with waterfront exposure in a storm.

But other performance venues will remain and expand on the bay.

Bill Waddill, managing director of The Bay effort, says organizers envision it taking 10 to 15 years to completely build out all facets of the master plan, and the total cost could run from $100 million to $150 million. And organizations leasing space on the Bayfront right now will all move froward with their own long-range plans. “They all need their own plans to be economically and financially sustainable,” he says. Some of those organizations will grow faster than others, of course. The Van Wezel Foundation would likely have a major role in planning the new performance venue on the bay in addition to plotting the future of the Purple Cow. “We’re still not clear who is going to operate it,” Waddill said of the new venue. 

Haley says she now wants to know more details about financing the ambitious master plan. “The focus now needs to be on the details and phasing,” she says. She expects the project could be supported in part by tourist development tax, though that’s dependent on how successful efforts are to reach the goal of raising $30 million in tax revenue with the recent increases in local hotel inventory.

Waddell says 15 to 20 different funding sources have been explored on some level. The master plan from Sasaki. In addition to bed tax, the project could be supported by local philanthropy, grants from the city, county, state or federal government, and the potential certain of a tax increment financing district. Operating revenue sources could come from membership fees, sponsorships, facilities rentals, and potential community development or business improvement district. 

Rendering Courtesy Sasaki

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