Selby Gardens receives city permit to proceed with vertical construction of Phase One of its master plan

Completion of $51.6-million project expected in August 2023

Work is underway on Selby Gardens’ Living Energy Access Facility, or LEAF. Image from the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens website

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens has received the necessary City of Sarasota permit to begin vertical construction on Phase One of its Master Plan for its downtown Sarasota campus, leaders of the nonprofit have announced.

As a result, work has begun on the Living Energy Access Facility, or LEAF, “a multipurpose structure that will house a new garden-to-plate restaurant, expanded gift and plant shop, and on-site parking, all topped by a nearly 50,000-square-foot solar array,” a news release points out. “The $51.6-million first phase of the estimated $92-million project” also will feature a new Welcome Center and a cutting-edge Plant Research Center with a state-of-the-art herbarium and research library, the release adds.

“This project is truly innovative and transformational — for Selby Gardens and for Sarasota — as our Downtown Sarasota campus becomes the first net-positive energy botanical garden complex in the world,” said President & CEO Jennifer O. Rominiecki in the release. “With the ribbon-cutting for Phase One less than 17 months away, our donors will see the impact of their philanthropy in real time. We are so grateful to our loyal supporters and many other partners for making this important milestone possible.”

In February 2021, the City Commission gave final approval to a revised version of the Master Plan. The original proposal generated public outcry, largely because of the size of the parking garage, concerns that traffic would disrupt the surrounding neighborhoods, and worries that a rooftop area of the new proposed restaurant would generate excessive noise.

The revised Master Plan reduced the parking structure’s overall height by 40%, and the restaurant design was modified to call for 100 seats instead of 185.

This is the updated, 2020 view of the overall Master Plan. Image from the Selby Gardens website

Additionally, the hours of the restaurant’s operation were to mirror those of the Gardens, so as not to disturb people living in the area.

The ordinance says, “No outdoor amplified music shall be permitted at the restaurant,” and “Activities generating outdoor amplified sound shall be confined to the period between the hours of [noon and 10 p.m.], except for the annual [fundraising event], for which activities may extend until 11:00 p.m.”

Further, the ordinance calls for each principal external wall of the parking garage to have “Green Living Walls installed” that comprise an area no less than 15% “of each façade area calculated above the first floor.” The ordinance adds that, within a year of the issuance of the final Certificate of Occupancy for the garage, “[L]iving plant material shall appear to cover at least [30%] of each Green Living Wall skeletal structure.”

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch was the only board member to vote against the Master Plan provisions.

In December 2021, the Gardens executed a $31,165,000 bond sale to help finance the Master Plan. Shortly afterward, CEO Rominiecki announced in a news release that Selby Gardens had raised more than $45 million, or about 90% of the expense of Phase One.

Phase One “is designed to improve the visitor experience at Selby Gardens, better protect and showcase the organization’s world-class research collections, and make the Downtown Sarasota campus a model for the latest in sustainable design and operation,” the latest news release points out. In addition to the LEAF’s rooftop solar array, which will generate almost 1 megawatt of power, “the project includes other environmental features with benefits that extend beyond the Gardens themselves,” the release notes. “An underground stormwater vault, which already has been constructed, will capture and treat all stormwater runoff that passes through the Phase One footprint. This stormwater-filtration system will effectively divert and clean millions of gallons of water each year before it is returned to Sarasota Bay,” the release adds.

This is a rendering of the planned Welcome Center. Image courtesy Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

“Phase One also includes a new multi-use recreational trail (MURT) that will enable multimodal transportation to the campus and the bayfront. The MURT will connect to a bayfront pocket park that is owned by the City of Sarasota but will be improved and maintained by Selby Gardens,” the release points out. “Other highlights of Phase One will be the creation of new garden features and more green space, restoration of historic Palm Avenue as a pedestrian-only promenade, and offsite roadway improvements,” the release says.

After Phase One has been completed, the release continues, the Master Plan project will move on to Phases Two and Three. “Phase Two will create a hurricane-resilient greenhouse complex to house Selby Gardens’ world-renowned living plant collection as well as a learning pavilion with expanded capacity for school programs and new indoor and outdoor classroom space for children through lifelong learners,” the release points out.

“Phase Three will complete the project with restoration of the campus’ two major historical buildings, unification of all walking paths throughout the Gardens, and bolstering of the property’s seawalls and dockage,” the release adds.