Refined concepts for Sarasota bayfront released

More public presentations planned next week

A graphic shows details on which the design team has focused since it made presentations to the public in April. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

About 85% of people who commented last month on three proposed concepts for the redevelopment of 53 acres on the Sarasota bayfront expressed a desire for the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall to be retained and/or repurposed, the design firm working on proposals for The Bay reported this week.

Sasaki, which is based in Watertown, Mass., was hired last year by the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization (SBPO) to work with community residents in crafting a proposal for public space and arts and entertainment venues on the property, most of which is owned by the City of Sarasota.

“Approximately 230 unique comments” were provided regarding the Van Wezel, the May 10 report says. Of those, 61% came from people 65 years of age or older; 25% were from people ages 45 to 64; 8% were from parents; and 6% were from young adults with no children, the report adds.

Altogether, the Sasaki report points out that 2,310 surveys were completed; 1,927 of those were filled out online, with 383 paper forms submitted.

Just this week — on May 15 — City Manager Tom Barwin responded to a business owner concerned about the future of the Van Wezel. Barwin wrote that “the Van Wezel Foundation and the management of the Van Wezel have been looking at all options in terms of continuing to have a first rate performing arts venue here for the next 50 years. Many factors are going into the planning and analysis.”

The Sasaki report’s summary says, “Top preferred features reflect desires for the Bay to [provide] significant public access” for people to enjoy the waterfront. Those include a waterfront path; an “outdoor performance lawn”; an amphitheater; more habitat, such as mangroves; a lawn for recreation; and “civic open space.”

A graphic shows a refined version of Bridge the Divide. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Additionally, “residents desire the Bay to provide a balance of activities, without any one aspect dominating the site,” the report notes. “The Bay should be a place for arts/culture, recreation, environment, and waterfront uses.” Those uses, the report continues, “should compliment, not compete with other activities in the area.”

The report also says, “Respondents strongly prefer pedestrian bridges or land bridges” for crossing U.S. 41, instead of a traffic-calming option.

Finally, the summary notes that respondents want to ensure the proposal leads to the creation of “a healthier bay.”

In a May 16 email to the Sarasota City Commission, Barwin wrote that 32,000 contacts had been recorded “since the planning process began …”

On May 21, representatives of the SBPO and Sasaki are scheduled to appear before the City Commission to present an update on the bayfront planning initiative. That is scheduled as the first item for the evening portion of the meeting at City Hall, which will begin at 6 p.m. The agenda says the presentation will be “limited to 7 minutes.”

Additionally, Sasaki project team members will present their draft master plan — including details about financing it — to members of the public on May 21 and May 22, Barwin noted in the email.

Barwin serves on the SBPO as a liaison for the City Commission.

An invitation Barwin included with the email says the first 300 people to RSVP will be admitted to the Grand Foyer of the Van Wezel for a presentation between 3:30 and 5 p.m. on May 21. The doors will open at 3:15 p.m., the invitation adds.

To register, people should go to, the invitation says.

Other sessions are planned from 8:30 to 10 a.m. and from 1:30 to 3 p.m. on May 21, the invitation notes. A May 22 presentation is planned from 5:30 to 7 p.m. The document adds that people should visit The Bay website ( “for reservation codes” for those events.

This is the invitation City Manager Tom Barwin included in his email to the City Commission this week. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

The Van Wezel is located at 777 N. Tamiami Trail.

In the email to the commissioners, Barwin pointed out that while they would hear the update on May 21, he was forwarding to them “the more detailed background presentation the SBPO previewed” during its meeting on May 15. “Due to the time constraints and a busy agenda on Monday,” he wrote, “you will get a 30,000 foot overview and executive summary of the current status by SBPO and Sasaki.”

The three concepts members of the public and the commission saw in April, he continued, “have evolved slightly as a result of [the] SBPO’s analysis [on May 15].” That session lasted two hours, he noted.

A graphic shows how a waterfront drive could be incorporated into the design. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

The May 10 report from Sasaki offers a number of potential refinements for the Bridge the Divide concept the firm presented to the public in April. It received the highest overall rating, the report notes. The other two concepts were called Shift the Horizonand The Village & the Island.

Among the adjustments being made to incorporate public comments, the report continues, are relocation of performance venues to provide better views of Sarasota Bay and easier access. More attention also is being put on programs that would make The Bay a destination for visitors and residents, along with ways to “activate” the waterfront.