Ongoing Struggle Regarding G. Wiz Structure

Government

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY MONDAY BUSINESS EDITION MONDAY DEC 10, 2018

The former G. Wiz building on Sarasota’s Bayfront once again has sparked a struggle between Sarasota’s architectural history and a recently approved vision for the future.

Sarasota’s Historic Preservation Board right now has taken steps to get an historic designation on the building, the original site of the Selby Library. Sarasota City Commissioners, however, already voted to tear down the long-vacant structure as part of the first phase in developing The Bay public space.

“There seems to be a constant back-and-forth,” said Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown at the last Sarasota City Commission meeting.

The most recent move has frustrated some City Commissioners. “They’re double backing on our policy directions,” said Commissioner Hagen Brody, “continuing to take votes that will complicate this board’s prior decision to move forward with that project.”

But City Commissioner Jennifer Ahearn-Koch, who voted against demolishing the structure, said the problem lies with the commission taking action without advising first with the Historic Preservation Board. “If we have advisory boards and we don’t consult them when we have historic structures, that could be one of the reasons this is going on,” she said.

Brown, though, said because the site never has been designated as an historic structure in the past, the fate of the building never was put in front of the Historic Preservation Board. Indeed, the state already determined the building was ineligible for historic designation.

The Walter Netsch-designed structure, which decades ago won national architectural awards, was greatly renovated before the G. Wiz operated there. And after G. Wiz unexpectedly closed six years ago, the building suffered years of vacancy and neglect.

Still, the local chapter for the American Institute of Architects argued earlier this year against tearing down the structure, a rare instance of a prominent business group siding with neighborhood leaders in a fight against a major redevelopment project in the region. 

But Sarasota City Commissioners ultimately voted 3-2 in favor of moving forward with the first phase of a 53-acre public space. The structure otherwise costs the city $40,000 in upkeep and for years officials have been unable to find a tenant who would move in to the structure.

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