Sarasota Ironing Out Details for Bay Conservancy

Todays News


A new conservancy remains in the works for a 53-acre cultural destination on the Sarasota Bayfront. 

Bill Waddill, managing director for The Bay, says the goal right now is to establish a nonprofit organization to provide outside financial support for the long-planned Bayfront redevelopment project. “It’s harder and harder for cities and counties to build parks and maintain them as well,” he says. The conservancy model has been used in some 130 major parks nationwide. 

The Bay Park Conservancy, a nonprofit organization, will allow philanthropic and other dollars to support the destination, which will include expanded piers, new performance venues and public access to the waterfront. 

The funding model originated in New York City, where a conservancy to this day supports Central Park. But that agreement dates back to the 1930s and deals with a huge asset in the middle of America’s biggest metropolis. Waddill says more comparable conservancy models can be found with the Waller Creek Conservancy in Austin, Texas or at the Piedmont Park Conservancy in Atlanta, Georgia.

Waddill says the model isn’t in use at any major Florida parks and will work differently than relationships that exist now between Sarasota governments and certain high-profile facilities. Watchdog groups this week raised concerns the model could face some of the same criticisms and scrutiny as contracts with Major League Baseball clubs about publicly owned stadiums, or an agreement for an outside group operating Nathan Benderson Park.

Waddill doesn't want to speak to particulars about any of those agreements as he doesn’t know inner workings. But he says the Sarasota Bay Planning Organization remained cognizant of public concerns. While there have been questions whether enough private dollars supported those venues, he says the conservancy should guarantee support here. In the early phases, he expects at least 50 percent of funding to come from the conservancy, not a public source. With this project, some of the public funding mechanisms, like a tax increment financing district, have yet to be established and won’t produce major funding for years.

Notably, the Barancik Foundation last week announced $940,000 in grant funding for the still-pending conservancy. That will go toward environmental protections for mangroves. One environmental benefit to the redevelopment will be a reduction in stormwater pouring into Sarasota Bay. As other phases of the project move forward, there could be opportunites for nonprofit and private investment.

City officials this week did promise to take their time on defining the contractual agreement between the government body that owned The Bay property and the conservancy that will help provide financial support to the community resource. Commissioners said they want a term sheet and contract to come before the board on March 18, which will allow more time to publicly vet the deal and still allow a final vote on the contract on April 1. “These are the building blocks for the final memorandum of understanding,” said Commissioner Jennifer Ahearn-Koch.

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