Leaders of Bayfront 20:20 explain how a new organization will develop a master plan for 42 city acres

Private entities will cover the approximately $2.5-million expense of hiring a manager and bringing in experts to assist the group of local representatives

Jon Thaxton (left) and Michael Klauber address the City Commission. News Leader photo
Jon Thaxton (left) and Michael Klauber address the City Commission. News Leader photo

A planning organization of up to nine members is expected to take 18 to 24 months to craft a master plan and an oversight structure for 42 acres of bayfront property the City of Sarasota owns, two of the leaders of Sarasota Bayfront 20:20 told the City Commission this week.

The goal is for the new organization to begin its work in early 2017, Michael Klauber, co-owner of Michael’s on East, said during the board’s regular meeting on July 18.

Private fundraising efforts will secure the approximately $2.5 million anticipated for the hiring of a professional manager for the initiative, plus administrative staff, Jon Thaxton, senior vice president for community investment at the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, told the board.

The organization probably will seek 501(c)(4) nonprofit status, Thaxton noted.

Nonprofithub.org explains that with a 501(c)(3), “Lobbying … or other legislative activity must be kept insubstantial, which is generally interpreted as 10-20 percent of an organization’s activities.” A 501(c)(4) entity can engage in lobbying efforts “if the causes coincide with the organization’s purpose.”

The work of this new committee will be the culmination of an almost three-year-long process designed to create performing arts facilities for community groups as well as green space for public use, Klauber, pointed out.

The Tarkington Center is part of Carmel, Ind.'s performing arts complex. Image courtesy City of Sarasota
The Tarkington Center is part of Carmel, Ind.’s performing arts complex. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

As for funding associated with any structures envisioned by the master plan: That was not part of Klauber’s and Thaxton’s presentation this week. Nonetheless, Commissioner Susan Chapman talked later during the meeting about the tour she and other Sarasotans — including City Manager Tom Barwin — recently took of an arts and cultural district in Carmel, Ind., that has been suggested as a potential model for Sarasota. That Midwestern city of 95,000 has $950 million of debt as a result of the performing arts and mixed-use facilities it has constructed, she pointed out.

Reaching this point

As he opened his presentation, Klauber explained that the members of the Bayfront 20:20 planning group who have been meeting regularly have been guided by six principles. As expressed by community residents, he continued, the desire is to create “a destination that furthers our cultural vitality, [provides] space for recreation and a place for educational opportunities to blossom …”

Moreover, the desire is for families “to be engaged by a destination that is welcoming and safe.”

Fifty-three entities have signed on thus far as supporters of Bayfront 20:20, he noted. The latest are the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation and the Plymouth Harbor residences just east of St. Armands Circle.

The organization has held more than 200 public meetings “to ensure inclusion and transparency” as it has worked on how best to proceed, Klauber added.

Bayfront 20:20 used this graphic in its presentation. Image courtesy City of Sarasota
Bayfront 20:20 used this graphic in its presentation. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

After representatives of Bayfront 20:20 last met with the commissioners in February, he continued, the Patterson Foundation offered to pay for a facilitator to help the organization take the next step in its planning. Klauber said he invited a small group to join him in that process. Among them were Thaxton; Shaun P Merriman, a banker who is chair of the Van Wezel Foundation; Joe McKenna, president and CEO of Sarasota Orchestra; and Bob Easterly, former president of the Sarasota Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations (CCNA).

Over the past 12 weeks, Klauber continued, that group had worked with the facilitator to create a proposed structure for the planning organization.

On May 16, Klauber said, the Bayfront 20:20 planning group met with representatives of all six of the foundations in the community. Their positive response “has been affirming, and it offers another illustration of strong community backing.”

Referring to the new body, Thaxton noted, “It’s going to look like something different” from the typical governmental committee.

Along with the volunteer members, Thaxton explained, the group will have a “resource team,” whose members may come and go, depending upon which issues the body is addressing at a particular time. Most of the resource personnel are expected to be city staff members, he added. Representatives of the arts and cultural organizations that lease the city’s bayfront property will be considered permanent members of that resource team, Thaxton noted, as will Sarasota Orchestra and the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. “It is critical that they are at the table with real-time input.”

It also is expected that the manager will need to hire consultants with specific expertise critical to the creation of the master plan, Thaxton explained — architects, engineers and people knowledgeable about public transportation — “people that build government cultural arts facilities.”

Notices will be posted for all of the meetings, and minutes will be kept, Thaxton said.

After the planning organization has completed its work, he told the board, it will be dissolved.

Questions and acceptance

City Commissioner Liz Alpert. Image from Liz Alpert Law
City Commissioner Liz Alpert. Image from Liz Alpert Law

In reading through material in advance of the July 18 meeting, Commissioner Liz Alpert said she recalled seeing a suggestion that City Finance Director John Lege be the commission’s appointee to the planning organization.

“It was a suggestion that was brought up,” Thaxton told her. “We want somebody that would be pertinent to the discussion … and could represent the city’s interests. … That ultimately is going to be decided by the five of you.”

Mayor Willie Shaw suggested that two city representatives might be preferable on the new committee instead of the solitary person Bayfront 20:20 proposed. “These are government properties,” he said. However, Thaxton explained that private entities needed for the process will be more likely to participate if the organization does not seem like a governmental body.

City Manager Barwin supported Thaxton’s stance, noting that he had come to understand that if two city representatives were involved, they would be forbidden by the state’s open government laws to communicate about the organization’s work outside of formal meetings. “It’s a weird situation.”

“I’m comfortable with just one representative,” Alpert responded.

“I agree with everything you said, Jon,” Commissioner Suzanne Atwell added. “This is our land, but this is bigger than all of us. … This, today, is the beginning of this huge commitment from us, I hope.”

“I know that as we move forward, we will have to decide who is the best representative,” Vice Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie said. Perhaps a consultant who has experience with planning such as the Bayfront 20:20 leaders envision would be more appropriate than Lege, she added.

Mayor Willie Shaw. File photo
Mayor Willie Shaw. File photo

When Shaw asked whether the group has recognized the need to incorporate sea level rise in the planning organization’s discussions, Thaxton replied, “One would be foolhardy to move forward with [the plan] without giving sea level rise very serious consideration. … It has been pervasive in our discussions.”

At the conclusion of the discussion, Shaw announced, “We will accept your report this afternoon.” No other formal City Commission action was sought.

The Carmel tour

During her report later in the meeting, Commissioner Chapman and Barwin talked of their recent trip to the Indiana city. Carmel has a $125-million budget,” Chapman said. The state does have an income tax, and the city receives about 40 percent of its revenue from the state. It also has a 1-percent local option income tax, she noted.

The mayor escorted the Sarasota delegation on tours over two days, she continued.

The performing arts facility — the Palladium — she added, is used only as a concert hall. Across a “huge piazza” from it is the Tarkington Center, a mixed-use facility with two theaters, a bank and the offices of a software firm. The theaters are not used on a regular basis, she pointed out.

The city’s farmers market is held on the piazza, Chapman noted.

The Palladium is the focal point of the Carmel, Ind,, complex. Image from the Center for the Performing Arts website
The Palladium is the focal point of the Carmel, Ind,, complex. Image from the Center for the Performing Arts website

Furthermore, the Carmel Symphony Orchestra is more comparable to the Sarasota Concert Band than the Sarasota Orchestra, she said, and the theater group in the city is akin to The Players in Sarasota.

The city budgets about $3 million annually to subsidize the performing arts facilities, she told her colleagues.

The 88-acre complex is being paid for through a tax increment financing (TIFF) district, Barwin explained.