Redevelopment group asks for city approval

Sarasota, Florida - It's considered one of the most expensive pieces of waterfront properties in Southwest Florida and it's in Downtown Sarasota. Soon it may have a new owner, and that has spawned a grassroots effort to protect the redevelopment of Sarasota's Bayfront and the public's interest.

The former site of the Sarasota Quay along US 41 has sat vacant for several years. It's about 17 acres, reportedly estimated at $40 million. The deadline for offers closes July 15, and what happens here will impact the city-owned cultural district next door.

"You have the whole city's cultural park area... the Van Wezel, the orchestra, the municipal auditorium, the art center," explains Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County.

Haley is also part of "Bayfront 20:20," a grassroots effort that's looking at the long-term plan for the Bayfront's redevelopment.

Click here to read Bayfront 20:20 report to Sarasota City Commissioners.

"At this point, we need to come together as a community to plan this environmental, economical and cultural asset," says Haley.

Bayfront 20:20 is looking at an 80/20 split: 80 percent public use, 20 percent private.

Haley says, "Who in Florida has a chance to take a look at this much property --waterfront property -- and say 'We really can do better than a Van Wezel parking lot.'"

"Concrete isn't ever inviting," says Barbara Bricker. She and her husband enjoy the view of Sarasota Bay from the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center's parking lot from their car as they eat lunch. They'd like to see more of a park setting. Bricker says she'd like to see "more shaded places, picnic tables, benches and more activities like a band."

Haley hopes that at Monday's city commission meeting, the city will support the group's goal of developing a master plan for the Bayfront.

Haley says, "For this to work in Sarasota, the community has to be a part of the whole process and this is the beginning of the process."

Vice Mayor Susan Chapman says commissioners have to set guidelines to follow. "I want to make sure the property owned by the city is kept available to city residents," she says.

Chapman received a packet anonymously from a private developer with ideas for redeveloping the Bayfront. The packets includes $255 million in improvements, including a $100 million Mote aquarium.

"The $255 million project was not vetted with the city and questions the ability of the city to handle its own property. I found that somewhat offensive," says Chapman.

She adds, "I think the city needs to set standards for anybody who wants to do plans with city-owned Bayfront. We need to make sure the city has a role, a very active role and that citizens are included."

What's next for Bayfront's redevelopment? If the city commissioners endorses Bayfront 20:20's efforts, the group will hold community meetings in September and October to gather the public's ideas, then take those ideas to commissioners at a workshop in November.


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