Sarasota City Commission approves request to prevent third-party use of property or facilities that are the focus of Bayfront 20:20 planning

Resolution designed to give the planning organization ‘as much unfettered freedom’ as possible, city manager says

City-owned property near the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and the former G.WIZ science museum is the focus of the planning. File photo

With a unanimous vote, the Sarasota City Commission this week made it clear that it will not entertain any requests for third-party use — beyond Jan. 1, 2019 — of any of the land or facilities that make up the city-owned bayfront area proposed as the site of a new cultural and public district.

The Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization (SBPO) — which was established last fall — “has begun the work to plan the 42 acres around the Van Wezel [Performing Arts Hall],” City Manager Tom Barwin pointed out during the commission’s regular meeting on April 17. In fact, he continued, he understood that $1.5 million of the $2 million needed to hire a multi-faceted professional team to guide the planning already has been secured by Bayfront 20:20. The latter nonprofit has been working for several years to achieve the creation of a master plan for the city-owned land, including the potential for a new venue for the Sarasota Orchestra and potentially a larger performing arts hall than the Van Wezel.

Because of the planning process, Barwin continued, the SBPO had asked that the commissioners approve a short resolution that will facilitate its work. The resolution reads, “In light of the significant commitment of time and resources that is being invested by the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization (SBPO) in planning for the long-term utilization of the Bayfront area, it is resolved as a matter of normal policy, that, in order to maintain the integrity of City-owned lands and facilities during the study period, the City shall avoid entertaining any requests for third-party use of such lands or facilities that might involve commitments extending beyond January 1, 2019; unless the City Commission shall, prior to that time, opt to rescind this resolution.”

City Manager Tom Barwin. Photo courtesy City of Sarasota

“I think this is a consideration to give them as much unfettered freedom to re-plan the bayfront so they don’t have any competing commitments,” Barwin said. “From time to time,” he continued, “we have been faced with unsolicited requests to use parts of the property” or buildings on it. He has been sending those to the SBPO, he noted.

The resolution, he said, “puts us all on the same page [and] makes some public policy sense …”

“I am very much in favor of going forward with this resolution,” Mayor Willie Shaw responded, “simply because we do not need to have a continuing conversation [regarding] outside influences.”

The planning organization, he pointed out, has a defined purpose.

“I would agree with that, as well, because we have already set the broad parameters of continuous public use, continuous public view [of Sarasota Bay],” Commissioner Susan Chapman concurred.

“I agree wholeheartedly with this,” Commissioner Suzanne Atwell said. “We don’t want various entities queuing up [for use of the 42 acres].”

Mayor Willie Shaw. File photo

“I think [the proposed resolution] gives consistency and clarity” to the stakeholders interested in developing the property, Vice Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie added. Any parties that would like to make a proposal about use of part of the 42 acres in the future “will know exactly who to reach out to.”

Finally, Commissioner Liz Alpert said, “I am going to agree for all of the reasons that everybody already articulated.”

Chapman made the motion to approve the formal drafting of a resolution for the board to consider at its May 1 meeting, and Alpert seconded it.

Barwin pointed out in during a meeting with top county staff last week that the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization is expected to unveil its master proposal for the property no later than 18 months from now.