FAQs - The Bay Sarasota
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What is The Bay?

The Bay is a community, city and park conservancy initiative to transform 53 acres of city-owned land, that is mostly parking lot, into a signature public park on Sarasota Bay. Once complete, The Bay will include a wide range of park uses that will be open and accessible, free and welcoming, to the full and rich diversity of our community for this generation and generations to come.

What is the difference between a master plan and implementation plan?

A park master plan is a conceptual design that shows a plan of possible uses by park goers. The original master plan for 53-acre site and Phase 1 was approved the city commission in September 2018.

A park implementation plan is a more detailed design that shows a plan of actual, feasible uses by park goers. The Phase 1 implementation plan was approved unanimously by the city commission in September 2019.

To learn more, view the slideshow From Master Plan to Phase 1.

What is The Bay Park implementation agreement?

The City of Sarasota and The Bay Park Conservancy (BPC) entered into a long-term partnership agreement to design and plan, develop and fund, manage and operate a new park on Sarasota Bay for the benefit of everyone in our community.

The city commission approved the long-term partnership agreement unanimously in April 2019. The agreement was signed and took effect in May 2019.

This partnership agreement set out the roles and responsibilities of both the city and The Bay Park Conservancy. In addition, it provided a sequence of recommendations and approvals to build out and operate the park in phases.

Each phase of park development will first provide an implementation plan, then a site plan for development approval, and finally an implementation agreement that lays out the management and operating roles of the city and the BPC for each phase of the park. The agreement will also include detailed operational policies, principles, and procedures as well as planned activities, events, and programs that may take place in the park.

Please see the current preview of the implementation agreement for Phase 1 of the park submitted with the Phase 1 site plan recommendation.

Once the site plan is approved for development, the BPC will begin work in earnest on the implementation agreement which will be recommended to the city commission before Phase 1 development is completed. This will also occur prior to the BPC assuming any responsibility for management of the first phase.

What is a park conservancy?

A park conservancy is a private independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that partners with local government and the public to conserve precious government-owned land as a public park for broad community use. Park conservancies design, plan and develop public parks, co-fund park capital projects and ongoing park operations in partnership with government agencies.  In certain cases, a park conservancy manages, operates and helps maintain new or existing public parks once they are developed or re-developed.

Park conservancies enter into private/public partnerships with the government to conserve and preserve public land and to provide resources (such as people/talent and funds) to accomplish objectives, to create and/or improve public parks or to achieve goals the city or county and community want to achieve but do not have the resources to achieve on their own. The Bay Park Conservancy (BPC) is a private, independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit focused on the conservation and environmental preservation/enhancement/sustainability of precious government/public owned land on Sarasota Bay.

The BPC is the designated development partner of the City of Sarasota tasked with the design, planning and development of the new park, and with financing/funding of capital projects and ongoing BPC operations from private sources to complement government/public sources. And, ultimately after each phase of the park is built, the ongoing management, operation and maintenance.

The BPC and the City of Sarasota have entered a long-term partnership agreement to create, develop, build out, fund and operate the Bay Park.

The city has approved the Master Plan for the entire 53-acre park and the first phase, the Implementation Plan for the first phase and the Partnership Agreement with The Bay Park Conservancy.

The city and the county have recently approved TIF financing that could raise as much as $200 million over the next 30 years, which would pay for about half of the total cost of a new park and a new performing arts center in the park.

The detailed site plan for the first phase has been submitted to the city for development approval.

Why is the sunset Boardwalk configured and located where it is in the Phase 1 Implementation Plan and site development approval application?

The sunset boardwalk featured in the Implementation Plan agreed by the Sarasota city commission unanimously in September 2019 is configured, designed and located to:

  1. Minimize the impact on the environment,specifically seagrass and coral structures in the bay, the natural shoreline along the bay and the mangrove bayou.
  2. Continue smooth operations of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and programming on its South Lawn.
  3. Create extraordinary, one-of-a-kind access for future park goers not only to the bay but also over the bay to appreciate and learn about marine life and our ecological environment.
  4. Continue to build on and complement the overall integrated design and plan for the entire 53-acre site with the southernmost 10 acres of Phase 1, including a nature preserve that will be intended for quiet and passive use.

To learn more about Phase 1, view the following videos and articles:

What is the current status of The Bay?

In October 2022, the first phase of The Bay opened with a ten-day Grand Opening.

Phase 1 includes more than 14 acres of restored and revitalized greenspace, mangroves, shorelines and wetlands.

Popular features include a larger-than-life Ibis playground, Common Ground lawns, The Nest (an award-winning concession pavilion operated by the Venice Pier Group and shade structure), the Mangrove Bayou Walkway, an outdoor Reading Room, an ADA-accessible paddle launch, the Fountain Garden, and spectacular sunset views from the “beach” and Sunset Deck.

Late 2022, The Bay Park Conservancy received unanimous approval of Phase 2 plans by the Bay Park Improvement Board, City and County Commission.

Approval of this Phase 2 Capital Improvement project and funding enables The Bay Park Conservancy to complete the circle of the new and improved public park, south of the 10th St public boat launch over the next 4 years from 2023 to 2026. 

To learn more about The Bay Park Grand Opening and Phase 2 plans, view the following resources.

How is The Bay Park coordinated and managed?

The Bay Park is coordinated and managed by The Bay Park Conservancy (BPC), a not-for-profit organization with the responsibility to design, plan, develop, and help fund the park in phases, and then operate, program and sustain each phase as it is built out and completed.

The City of Sarasota unanimously approved a long-term, 15-year exclusive Partnership Agreement with the BPC which details the responsibilities of each partner. While the BPC is primarily responsible for design, development and management of the park, the city and the park conservancy share responsibility for funding, and for infrastructure and maintenance. The city retains ultimate decision rights over a public park on city land.

Ultimately, the city and the conservancy work in close partnership with the community who will be using the park on a regular basis.

Watch this video to learn more.

How much will a new park on Sarasota Bay cost?

The best preliminary cost estimate for a 50+ acre park at The Bay is $100 – $150 million, or $2- $3 million dollars an acre, to be developed in phases as plans are finalized and approved, and funds raised. (This does not include any cost estimate for a new performing arts center, which is being managed separately by the City of Sarasota and the Van Wezel Foundation). The estimated capital cost for Phase 1 is $22 – $33 million. View the estimated cost exhibit (as of April 2019) from the partnership agreement here.

How will The Bay be funded?

The Bay will be funded from a combination of private philanthropic gifts and government sources. Phase 1 will be funded 80% from philanthropy and 20% from government sources.

The Bay Sarasota Donate

To date, over $12 million has been donated and another $4 million committed to The Bay by philanthropists. Local foundation support has led the way, as it did during our initial planning phase. The Patterson Foundation stepped forward with a generous initial gift of $2 million, and a challenge of another $3 million, to help raise $20 million or more from private sources to fund Phase 1. The Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation has donated over $1 million for the Mangrove Bayou project and to support The Bay Park Conservancy’s staff operations. Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Gulf Coast Community Foundation, and the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation have all provided support and commitments both directly and through their donors (cumulatively totaling in excess of $1.7 million).

Individual donors have been integral to The Bay’s momentum and we are grateful for all donor support. Outreach efforts included participating in the 2020 Giving Challenge, a fundraising event held by Community Foundation of Sarasota County. The Bay Park Conservancy (BPC) placed 18th out of 600+ other non-profit organizations for total dollars raised during the event, resulting in 450+ new Friends of The Bay who gave $25, $50 or more. Over $100,000 in donor gifts were raised for the BPC and with generous match funding from The Patterson Foundation, the total surpassed $135,000.

As our park partner, the City of Sarasota’s support has been instrumental in moving forward.  Starting with a grant the city received for shoreline hardening, the city has also committed $1 million in funding for capital improvements toward the Mangrove Bayou improvements. In addition, as a city park, The Bay receives and will continue to receive funding to support park maintenance.

The largest government source of funding for the park will be tax increment financing (TIF) by the city and county.

What is a TIF?

The City of Sarasota and Sarasota County are working together on tax increment financing (TIF) for The Bay and the new Sarasota Performing Arts Center (PAC). A TIF is a proven and frequently used city and county financing tool that captures the future value of appreciating property to pay for the current development costs of a significant civic initiative, like The Bay and new PAC, that benefits the community broadly. The TIF will set aside new taxes from both new and current businesses and residents in a designated district. This TIF district comprises the area adjacent to and surrounding the new park and performing arts center, whose residents would benefit most from park and PAC development. A TIF for the park and PAC will not increase anyone’s taxes in the TIF district, city or county; rather, it is designed to collect the normal appreciation, if any, in commercial and residential real estate taxes within the TIF district and sets this incremental difference aside to be invested, distributed, or used to underwrite other financing, like a city bond, for the park and the PAC.

To learn more about tax increment financing, watch this video.

On September 22, 2020, the Sarasota County Commission voted 4 to 0 to proceed with cooperative funding in partnership with the City of Sarasota, for The Bay Park, in the form of an interlocal agreement. The 10 basic terms of this agreement were approved by the City Commission on December 2, 2019, and by the County Commission on January 14, 2020, and then reaffirmed by the County on September 22, 2020. The amount of matching funds will be calculated using Tax Increment Financing (TIF) methodology. Final approval of the joint City/County Interlocal Agreement should come before the end of the calendar year.

Other helpful articles on this topic include:

How will The Bay impact me?

The Bay will be a world-class, signature park that is open and accessible, free and welcoming to the full and rich diversity of our community now and for generations to come. 

The Bay Park will feature an unprecedented array of amenities including: a new state-of-the-art performing arts center; a new state-of-the-art public boat launch with a full complement of services; a canal district with a wide variety of food and beverage choices and docking capacity for boats of all kinds; abundant blue and green oases including a restored and enhanced Mangrove Bayou, Fountain Garden, walkways and bikeways, outdoor lawns and play spaces, and outdoor performance venues, and more.

The park will also include two incredible features that enable people to get up, out and over Sarasota Bay for spectacular experiences and views: an ellipse that stretches from bay level up over the canal and the boat launch to enable views in all directions, but in particular to the north, along Sarasota Bay all the way to the Skyway bridge in Tampa; and a circular Sunset Boardwalk that complements the Mangrove Bayou and the natural shoreline to enable park goers to commune with nature and enjoy unparalleled sunset views over the bay, and barrier islands.

The Bay will be home to arts, cultural and educational programming, fitness, health and recreational activity, food and beverage festivals, open air markets, and programming at Art Center Sarasota, Sarasota Garden Club, Municipal Auditorium and both indoor and outdoor programming at the Van Wezel Hall (today) and the new Sarasota Performing Arts Center, once completed.

Beyond the amenities for park goers, there are significant additional benefits for our city and our community. The Bay will deliver a good return on investment and add value on many levels: 

  • Economic value added in direct and indirect commercial activity, jobs, rising real estate values, and increasing tax revenues. 
  • Cultural and educational value added that is available, free and welcoming to everyone in a public, outdoor park setting.
  • Social value added by creating common ground, a gathering place for shared activities that bring us together as a community and unite us in a place and in any way no other places or experiences can.

How can I get involved?

There are many ways to be involved in The Bay. The first is to get/stay informed on the latest news by signing up for our newsletter, visiting our website, and liking or following The Bay Sarasota on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. You can also get clarification, provide ideas, open discussions, or ask questions through Ask The Bay. If you’d like to get more hands-on with the initiative, become a volunteer or a Friend of The Bay. Finally, you can contribute to The Bay and Make a Gift to help us reach our goal in realizing the possibilities for our bayfront!

Who is bringing The Bay to life?

The Bay is a community-led initiative that began with the Bayfront 2020 coalition, which served as the catalyst to engage the community around the idea of a new park. Since that conversation began, literally tens of thousands of engaged and involved citizens have advanced the march towards what we know it as today, The Bay. Over the last six years, more than 75,000 individuals in our community have attended one or more public meetings, community workshops and/or engaged with The Bay on its website, or social media. By any measure, this is extraordinary and unprecedented engagement and dialogue between a community, a city and a succession of volunteer citizen groups. Learn more about the vision and guiding principles.

The Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization (SBPO) succeeded Bayfront 2020 and was tasked with creating a master plan for the 53-acre site, a viable governance organization, and a feasible financial plan for The Bay. When these were delivered and approved by the City of Sarasota, the SBPO was retired and was succeeded by The Bay Park Conservancy. For more information, read:

Since January, 2019, The Bay initiative has been coordinated and led by The Bay Park Conservancy (BPC).

The BPC has formed a network of capable, experienced and talented professionals to not only imagine but also realize the possibilities for a signature, world-class public park on Sarasota bay. Learn more about these professionals in our Meet the Team series.

Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and the Sarasota Performing Arts Center (SPAC)

The Bay Park Conservancy is focused on building and managing a signature park on Sarasota Bay.

The Bay Park Conservancy’s responsibility is to implement The Bay park in accordance with the Guiding Principles, Master Plan and long-term Partnership Agreement which were all approved by the City of Sarasota after extensive community outreach and input.

Any decision regarding the existing Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, or consideration of a new Sarasota Performing Arts Center, is exclusively a City of Sarasota decision.

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