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What is The Bay Park initiative?

The purpose is to create a destination site that not only is attractive and inviting to the city but serves as a legacy along the Bayfront by enhancing and protecting the 53 acres and creating a world-renowned, integrated destination. The space will provide the community with cultural and educational heritage, outdoor programming, connectivity and sustainability.

The initiative is the conservation of 53 acres of city-owned land for environmental preservation and enhancement into an iconic, signature public park on Sarasota bay. The park, when complete, will be the first signature park in the city’s history and will be the only major amenity in Sarasota that will be open, accessible, free and welcoming to everyone in the community.
The Bay Park will become a common ground and a gathering place where the full diversity and richness of Sarasota’s community can come together for a wide variety of activities and experiences now and for generations to come.

What is the City of Sarasota’s role in The Bay?

The City of Sarasota is the decision-maker since it ultimately owns the land. With the Conservancy’s partnership, the City of Sarasota will decide on the developers for the shoreline and site preparation, the funding, the operation, and the roles and responsibilities of the Park Conservancy.

What is the partnership agreement between the City and The Bay Park Conservancy?

The best way to ensure success is through a formal agreement defining both partners’ roles in a formal partnership agreement. This agreement cements the partnership by detailing authorities and responsibilities for design and planning, fundraising, construction, maintenance, and operations. This partnership agreement provides legitimacy and delineates responsibilities for a newly formed conservancy and protects public interest in the park for the city.

What is the relationship between The Bay, the City, and the community?

We’ve come a long way together as a community and as a city. The project has been driven by community aspirations and guiding principles – all ideas have been welcomed in the conversation. Much has been accomplished by a 3-way partnership and open dialogue among Sarasota community members, City Hall, and a succession of volunteer and citizen coalitions – Bayfront 2020, Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization, and now, the Bay Park Conservancy.

The design and plan are a result of an unprecedented collaboration and dialogue involving more than 50,000 individuals. City commissioners, city management and staff have partnered throughout in this cooperative and collaborative process – the first of its kind in Sarasota. Every step of the way, this process has been deliberate, focused, disciplined, and transparent. This effort has been, and will continue to be, a community-led initiative carried forward one step at a time by volunteers who stepped forward when called to offer their experience, energy, talent, and time to advancing the initiative.

What is The Bay Park Conservancy? What is a Park Conservancy?

The Bay Park Conservancy (BPC) is a not-for-profit organization with the responsibility to finalize the design, develop, build out, and help fund the park in phases and then operate and sustain each phase as it is completed. As of February 2015, 50 percent of major US cities have at least one Park Conservancy. No two are alike. Each takes on a unique character and functions according to the situation and the needs/opportunities of the city.

  • They are called conservancies because they conserve land and preserve blue and green space for public use in perpetuity.
  • They tend to provide for environmental protection, restoration and preservation, the expansion, improvement, and maintenance of green space and park land.
  • They are not-for-profits focused on the greater community good over the longest possible term.
  • They fill the gaps in resources, capabilities, and experience that city governments cannot or will not provide.
  • They engage and mobilize volunteers and advocates for the park.
  • When they have the capability and experience or can marshal resources cities can’t, they design, plan, develop new parks, and/or improvements to existing parks.
  • They operate, activate and program, maintain and sustain parks.
  • This is a new form of governance and capability for Sarasota, where in reality the parks have been neglected and under-maintained since the financial crisis and great recession.
  • The keys to success are trust and partnership. The roles and responsibilities of the public and private partner are always laid out in some form of contract or partnership agreement.
  • In the end, it becomes a matter of continuing to work together as a community (the park owners are ultimately the public who use the park), a Conservancy, and a city to move ahead together, learn together, and continue to improve and grow together.

What has been the role of the community in The Bay?

The project has been driven by community aspirations and guiding principles – all ideas have been welcomed in the conversation. Regardless of the partnership contract between the conservancy and the city, the real owners of the park are the people who use it. It’s the community that decides, so engaging park users and residents of the community is essential to the success of any conservancy.

What is a master plan?

A master plan is a visionary document that springs from a well-considered process, respecting both history and change, imagining possibilities for the future, and incorporating lots of input from design and urban planning experts and the public.
The Master Plan, recommended by Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization (SBPO) and Sasaki and approved by the City Commission, conserves 53 acres of precious and valuable city land and then enhances and preserves this land for public use as a park in perpetuity.

The Master Plan transforms surface parking that currently covers about two-thirds of the site into a blue and green oasis that will become predominantly park land. The Master Plan delivers on community aspirations and will create a park that is free, open, and accessible to all with a full range of fitness and recreation activities, arts, cultural and educational opportunities, and an array of events and programming.

What is Phase One?

The scale and scope of Phase 1 have been restrained and focused on our guiding principles and on the conservation and environmental realities of the first 9-10-acre phase of the future Bay Park. The first phase of the park consists of a significantly enhanced nature preserve, a sunset pedestrian walkway, and a series of lawns that slope/tier upward from the bay shoreline.

The nature preserve includes a softened and more resilient natural shoreline, an environmentally restored bayou and mangrove, and significantly improved accessibility to both the land and the water. The circular or spiral shape of the sunset boardwalk is the direct result of a series of environmental studies that clearly direct us to design over the bay access that respects and protects sea grass beds, coral-like growth, and both the natural bay and bayou habitats.

We’ve focused more on conservation, environmental restoration, protection, and enhancement in the Phase 1 design than we did in the master plan because we continue to learn more about the natural environment and what it takes to sustain it. We have also reduced the scope and density of the initial Phase 1 design. There are no plans for a permanent restaurant. We are now contemplating fewer permanent structures, only a few shaded areas to provide basic, minimal pop-up food, beverage, restroom, and event service support. Most of the space will consist of nature preserve and public lawns.

What is the expansion of the ecological shoreline at Boulevard of the Arts?

The existing natural shoreline has been in existence on the west end of this site for over 100 years, and the shore is naturally occurring. The recent shoreline improvements included a sloped transition to the naturally-occurring beach, which is already eroding. Based on our environmental studies, we propose softening the slope and creating a wider, more resilient ecological shoreline that will connect our community more closely to the bay and the water, preserve the history of the site, and allow us to create a more sustainable, resilient, and ecological shoreline.

What has been accomplished so far?

On September 6, the City Commission approved a master plan to transform the most precious bayfront property in the city from a parking lot into a signature public park. The Commission also approved moving ahead with implementation of the first 9 to 10 acres of green space and park land. The park design was endorsed by both the Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations (CCNA) and the Bayfront 20:20 Stakeholder Coalition. Most importantly, the Commission approved the governance and financial plans to develop the park in phases, and operate and sustain the park as each phase is complete.

We have conserved, preserved, and protected 53-acres of bayfront city land for public use in perpetuity.

We have approved a transformational master plan with which the Conservancy partnership with the city is a pragmatic and proven way to turn our shared park vision into reality. We also have a strategy for funding the entire park that is feasible, and a financing plan for Phase One that will enable implementation.

What is the current situation and focus for The Bay Park Conservancy?

The Bay Park Conservancy’s focus is to get the Phase 1 implementation plan approved by the City Commission on September 16.

What will happen next? What are the next steps for the project?

Watch this video to learn about the current next steps for The Bay.

What is the cost of this project?

$2.1 million in private philanthropy from donors across the community to fund the creation of a world-class, professionally designed master plan.

About another 20-25 million will be needed to build out the first phase of the park and operate the Bay Park Conservancy through 2021.

How is The Bay being funded and who has funded it so far?

This initiative has been funded so far entirely by private sources, major foundations, family foundations, individual philanthropists and citizens who believe in the unique, community aspect of the project.

Since this transformative park project germinated from a coalition of citizen volunteers in 2013, each community foundation 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. These foundations have shown support for The Bay initiative because they share values and purpose, including responsibility to help the community thrive in a way that benefits all citizens, which can be done by realizing The Bay. Private philanthropy has paid for the work of The Bay so far. Not only from foundations, but also nonprofit organizations and community-minded individuals. Each organization or individual have believed in the process, the plan, and the partner-leadership of the Bay Park Conservancy, working together with the City of Sarasota to deliver the community’s dreams.

While the ultimate goal in a public-nonprofit partnership is shared funding, every dollar to date has come from philanthropic sources.

City contribution to Phase One is a planned $1.5 million to $3 million of a total $20 to $25 million estimated total cost. This is only about 10%. So far, all the leadership and all the risk has been taken by citizen volunteers and private philanthropists because they believe the Bay Park is the single most important and transformative initiative the City and community of Sarasota will undertake over the next 10-20 years.

Who is leading The Bay initiative today and who started it?

The Bayfront 2020 coalition called out the opportunity and facilitated the community-driven guiding principles. The SBPO planning board developed a comprehensive park master plan for 53 acres of city land on Sarasota bay as well as a governance and financial strategy/plan to develop, fund, manage, and sustain the park.

SBPO sunsetted in December 2018 and was succeeded by The Bay Park Conservancy (BPC) in January 2019.

Who are The Bay Park Conservancy team?

The Sasaki design team, our Chief Implementation Officer, Bill Waddill, City Planning and Development Manager, Steve Cover, and founding CEO AG Lafley have all been directly involved in the creation/design, development and funding, and management of dozens of public spaces in more than 50 cities and communities across America and up/down Florida.

Sasaki was hired because they have a proven track record of not only designing and master planning great community parks (many on the waterfront), but also developing and delivering the parks they plan. Together, Sasaki, Bill Waddill, and AG Lafley have personally and actively led the design and development of more than 50 civic spaces and community parks across America. They have worked with a wide range of cities (small, medium, and large) and with a range of not-for-profit organizations, including park conservancies. In many cases, the new park creation was enabled by a partnership agreement between the city and the not-for-profit development, funding, and management partner.

  • Sasaki parks include: Charleston Waterfront Park, the Chicago Riverwalk, the Corpus Christi north Bayfront Park, the Alabama Gulf State Park, the Cincinnati Riverfront Park, the Lawn on D in Boston, Moore Square in Raleigh, the Wilmington Waterfront Park, and the Tom Hanafin Edge Park in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
  • Bill Waddil’s experience includes: The Siesta Key Beach park, Bradenton Riverwalk, Celery Fields, and Blackburn Point parks, and both the Riverwalk at Kennedy Plaza, and the Perry Harvey park in Tampa, Florida.
  • AG Lafley was recognized leader in the creation of important civic spaces in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio including: Fountain Square, Washington Park, and Over the Rhine.
  • Steve Cover is the City Planning and Development Manager of Sarasota. His expertise includes: the Atlanta Beltline and Center for Civil and Human Rights Museum in Atlanta, GA in addition to East Washington Avenue, Breese Stevens Field, Edgewater Hotel, and the Bike trails in Madison, WI.

How has the community been involved in this project?

From the beginning, this initiative has been community-led and has focused on the plan, the process, and the people required to turn possibilities imagined together into realities we can experience and enjoy together.

Both the master plan and the first phase design not only reflect Guiding Principles, but also create the only major amenity in Sarasota that will be open, accessible, and free to everyone in our community. The park will answer the hopes and aspirations of tens of thousands of voices who have been engaged in this design dialogue.

The process has been disciplined, deliberate, focused, and sequenced one logical step at a time. The process has, and will continue, to include ongoing engagement and dialogue with the community, stakeholders, the city, the county, and the incredibly generous philanthropic community, which has funded every dollar of the effort to date and will continue to contribute as we move to park development and implementation. The design, governance, and financial plan are the result of an unprecedented collaboration and dialogue involving more than 50,000 individual interactions, and the work of more than 100 professionals and volunteers.

How does this project affect me?

The Bay Park will be a unique amenity unlike any other on the Gulf Coast of Florida, conserving 53 acres of city land for public use. It features a scenic, central location featuring more than 1 mile of Sarasota Bay’s shoreline. The park will be open, accessible, free, and welcoming to all, including residents and visitors. It is a transformational initiative that will convert under-utilized land that is two-thirds parking lot into active park land. The Bay Park will be an environmentally enhanced blue and green oasis that increases cultural, educational, social, and economic value.

A public park, free, open, and accessible to all, will not only touch many more members of the Sarasota community than any other existing entity but also appeal more broadly to the full and rich diversity of our community, many of whom cannot or do not participate in the incredible range of offerings Sarasota currently provides because of real affordability or perceived accessibility and comfortability reasons.

Why did the implementation design change from the master plan design?

The 53-acre master plan and the Phase 1 Master Plan approved by the city are conceptual designs. As the design and implementation teams work together to create an implementation plan to guide development, and ultimately, construction of the park, conservation and environmental requirements, a wide range of feasibility issues, and of course, cost and funding realities come into play.

Throughout our efforts we have worked with the community to meet aspirations for the site. Through the generosity of private philanthropy, we engaged a world class design firm, Sasaki, to help us design and implement our community’s vision for the park. As a part of a normal design process, we are moving from the conceptual master plan to a refined, revised plan that considers additional environmental information and citizen and city input. The Phase 1 approval process will take approximately 8 months and include 7 community workshops, (two of which were on July 10).

Our original master plan concept included two activated parallel piers, the larger of which included a large food and beverage pavilion. As is typical when you move from master plan to a Phase 1 plan, we completed several environmental surveys (seagrass, mangrove, bathymetric, etc.). We also incorporated the recently completed shoreline improvements (as this work was not complete during the master plan process). This information led us to suggest a refined pedestrian boardwalk that avoids and minimizes impacts to the bay and its environmental systems, while allowing pedestrians access over the water to enjoy our great sunsets. Based on further study and community input, the current design restricts the pier to pedestrians, canoes and kayaks and will not allow motorized boats. In addition, we will meet or exceed required setbacks from the property line for the pedestrian boardwalk, recognizing that this location is the best to minimize impacts to existing seagrass and coral.

Why is The Bay initiative important?

A signature public park delivers a good return on investment and adds value on many levels. Economic value added in direct and indirect commercial activity and rising real estate values. Cultural and educational value added by significantly broadening the offerings, and importantly, making them available and free to the full range of Sarasota community diversity. Social value added by creating common ground, a gathering place for shared activities that bring us together as a community and unites us for a time in a place and in away few other places or experiences can.

How long will the project take?

Approving the partnership agreement enables moving forward to implementation. A 9 to 10-acre first park installment could be begun this year, or early next year, and be completed no later than 2021. Building out the entire 53 acres could take 15 years.

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, or going to The Bay Sarasota Facebook page. 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!

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