Leaders of massive Sarasota development adapt plans to address concerns of nearby residents on Boulevard of the Arts
NOTE: This article was originally published by Sarasota Herald-Tribune on August 21, 2019.
The latest designs for Phase I of The Bay project in Sarasota include a smaller lawn, a deleted beach and less activity along the Boulevard of the Arts.
“Squint and you can see the difference,” said Susannah Ross, a project manager for the Sasaki design firm, “but we’re still clearly within the master plan.”
Representatives of The Bay outlined changes and adjustments Wednesday during public meetings at the Municipal Auditorium and the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe.
Phase I concession areas and restrooms, which once lined the Boulevard of the Arts, have been moved into the lawn area and closer to a small parking lot and kayak launch. The picturesque spiral pier that curves over Sarasota Bay is now called the “Sunset Boardwalk.” A rocky strip of land called a “Beach” in earlier designs has been relabeled as “Resilient Ecological Shoreline.”
“It wasn’t ever our intention to make it a swimming beach,” explained Gina Ford of Agency Landscape + Planning, a consultant on The Bay. “We wanted to make that more explicit in the planning.”
Several changes to Phase I answered questions and criticisms from neighbors along the Sarasota bayfront.
“Many of our concerns have been addressed,” said Paige Atkins, a resident of Condo on the Bay, just south of Boulevard of the Arts. “I’m still concerned about the configuration of the pier.”
More than 100 people filed into the Municipal Auditorium for what was called a community workshop. No members of the public spoke at the meeting, though. They wrote down questions that representatives from The Bay asked and then answered from a podium.
Some audience members grumbled about the format. Others were excited to see new details for an exciting project.
“I think we’re on the right path,” said Ed Miller of Sarasota. “I love the process.”
Phase I of The Bay is a $20 million plan for the southernmost 9 acres of the project. Construction could begin next year and be completed in two years. Long-term plans for the 53-acre site include a new boat ramp, waterfront trail and, eventually, a successor to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
Bill Waddill, managing director of The Bay, said the first construction on Phase I will be a half-mile mangrove walk. That could start in a few months. Before then, planners hope to restore a fountain and add landscaping to the corner of U.S. 41 and Boulevard of the Arts.
“It’ll be a nice initial treatment,” Waddill said, “to welcome people into Phase I.”