Note: This editorial was originally published by Sarasota Herald-Tribune on April 14, 2019.
How often does a project bring together five major, independent philanthropic organizations in our region to make significant investments and maintain active, public commitment to its success? It takes something special, and The Bay — the sustainable redevelopment of 53 acres of city-owned bayfront in Sarasota — is just such an endeavor.
Since this transformative park project germinated from a coalition of citizen volunteers in 2013, each of our foundations has devoted dollars and other resources toward its progress. In fact, the majority of the extensive planning and community engagement work of The Bay so far has been funded through philanthropy.
Our organizations may have different missions; we may steward the legacies of different benefactors, both living and deceased; and we may use different strategies to achieve our respective priorities. But as charitable foundations that call Sarasota home, we also share certain values and purpose, including a responsibility to help our community thrive in a way that benefits all of our citizens. Realizing the possibilities of The Bay will do that.
The opportunities The Bay supports are well documented: open, family-friendly public access to the Sarasota Bayfront for nature viewing, recreation, and fitness; artistic, cultural and educational programming of a range and in a setting that our community has not yet seen; safe, convenient connectivity to nearby neighborhoods and amenities; and conservation and enhancement of environmental features that will restore and preserve precious coastal resources and habitat, and improve Sarasota Bay’s ecological health.
The list goes on, but the bottom line is this: The Bay will be a place like no other that is free, open and welcoming to the full diversity of our region.
The process through which our community reached the current phase of this project is creative place-making at its best. There has been broad citizen involvement — more than 50,000 public inputs so far. It has been driven by community aspirations — all ideas have been welcomed in the conversation. It has been managed through a unique, three-way partnership sharing responsibility and accountability — city government, a succession of citizen-led organizations, and the community at large.
With each successful step toward fully realizing The Bay, our community has come together to turn possibilities into reality by:
• Codifying the consensus of more than 60 diverse stakeholder groups into a shared vision and guiding principles that were adopted by the City Commission and continuing to set the park’s direction. Securing $2.1 million in private philanthropy from donors across the community to fund creation of a world-class, professionally designed master plan. (There has been significant additional philanthropy contributed toward the project since the plan’s delivery, too.)
• Formally approving the master plan and implementation of the park’s first phase, which consists of 10 acres of green space that will comprise restored wetlands and mangroves, a sunset pier and lawn with bay views, and a “living learning lab” to experiment with all kinds of programs and activities that residents and visitors will enjoy in the park, now and for generations to come.
Private philanthropy has paid for the work of The Bay so far. Not only from foundations, but also from nonprofit organizations and community-minded individuals. We understand the role that the independent sector must play in this momentous, once-in-a-generation undertaking. Our organizations believe in the process, the plan and the partner-leadership of The Bay Park Conservancy, working together with the city of Sarasota, to deliver on our community’s dreams.
How often does a community get to unpave a parking lot in order to restore and enhance enjoyment of paradise? That opportunity presents itself now in Sarasota.
As leaders in our region’s philanthropic sector, we affirm our belief in The Bay and commitment to its realization. We encourage our fellow community members and leaders to sustain our shared momentum and create reality from the dreams our community has articulated.
Teri A. Hansen, Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation; Roxie Jerde, Community Foundation of Sarasota County; Mark S. Pritchett, Gulf Coast Community Foundation; Debra M. Jacobs, The Patterson Foundation; Carol Butera, William G. and Marie Selby Foundation.
Read the original article on HeraldTribune.com.