On March 21, the board also is scheduled to consider special events guidelines — a discussion that could decide the fate of Thunder By the Bay
A bayfront cultural district — like Rome — would not be built overnight, and the planning in Sarasota has only just begun.
A new independent group will soon begin formal work with the goal of creating such a district. During the Monday, March 21, Sarasota City Commission meeting, the topic will be at the center of a discussion as the commissioners consider the makeup of that group.
Commissioner Susan Chapman, who placed the item on the agenda, is suggesting the independent committee include city staff and a member of the city’s Parks, Recreation, and Environmental Protection board (PREP), a desire the City Commission has previously noted in a vote.
The discussion is scheduled for the afternoon session of the meeting, which will begin at 2:30 p.m. in the City Commission chambers at City Hall on First Street in downtown Sarasota.
When it comes to Sarasota Bayfront 20:20’s plans for transforming 42 acres of city-owned land, Chapman has said she wants to ensure the city cautiously approaches the matter of funding. She has questioned how a consulting firm came up with its $150-million to $520-million range for performing arts amenities, whether the city could afford the expense, and whether the city commissioners will be asked to tap into the city’s bonding capacity, The Sarasota News Leader has previously reported.
During an earlier commission meeting, brief discussion ensued about the lack of information early in the planning process for the proposed cultural district — including details of a study the Sarasota Orchestra has since argued is not a public record.
On March 7, Joseph McKenna, president and CEO of Sarasota Orchestra, wrote Deputy City Auditor and Clerk Karen McGowan, noting, “While in the course of our presentation to the City Commission on February 22, we did allude to the fact that we have commissioned the multi-phase study, and offered highlights from the first two phases, as well as an outline of the work planned over the coming months, we unfortunately are not at this point prepared to share the content of the study with the general public.”
McKenna added, “At this juncture, it is essentially an internal [his emphasis] document, commissioned to guide our board in the strategic planning of its future programing and facilities, including the potential for securing adequate donor and patron support.”
Placing a city staff member and a PREP board member on the committee, city commissioners say, is an effort to help ensure transparency in the planning process for what could become an ambitious public-private partnership that would shape the future of city-owned land.
The fate of Thunder By the Bay
On Monday, the commissioners are also scheduled to address special events — a discussion that could decide the fate of Thunder By the Bay, the large and loud annual gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts, which has drawn both ire and support.
The city commissioners will consider whether to allow any major events to be held in downtown Sarasota during the winter tourist season. The decision possibly could force the festival to seek a new location for January 2017. The discussion is slated for the evening session, which will begin at 6 p.m.
In a public debate that reached a crescendo in January — after the latest Thunder By the Bay ended — both residents and downtown merchants were divided over whether to allow the motorcycle rally to return to its longtime Main Street locale.
Justin Bloom, a downtown resident, sent one of several emails that went to city leaders in protest of the event. On Jan. 25, Bloom wrote, “After the last few years of Thunder By The Bay, I’ve become increasingly displeased with the noise and display of ‘motorcycle culture’ which I think reflects poorly on the City … [W]ithout a major economic boost to balance the negatives, this event should not be permitted in the future.”
R.M. Anderson, a Venice resident who noted that he frequently visits Sarasota, also sent an email to city officials. On Jan. 29, he wrote, “As a retiree, I know of NO ONE who visits downtown Sarasota during bike week.”
“For the last two years I have closed the store for the weekend that Thunder is in town because we have no business when that event is in Sarasota,” Georgia Court, owner of Bookstore 1, wrote to city officials in yet another email, also sent Jan. 29.
But supporters have defended the event. Lisa Frick, a volunteer with Thunder By the Bay’s sponsor — Suncoast Charities for Children — wrote an email to Commissioner Susan Chapman on Jan. 24.
“People come from around the world and across the United States to attend Thunder By The Bay,” Frick pointed out. “Many have already booked their hotel accommodations for 2017.”
Backup agenda material for Monday’s meeting says, “Currently the City’s administration has put a hold on the approval of applications being received for special events to be held in 2017 within the downtown core along with road/bridge runs. This decision has been based on the continued discussions that been brought to the commission table and via email correspondence regarding the impact of certain special events, specifically the New Year’s Eve Celebration and Thunder by the Bay.”
City staff noted in the backup agenda material, “Both [Thunder By the Bay and the organizers of the New Year’s Eve activities], as well as others, have already made their request for dates and locations for 2016/17.”