Sarasota City Commission approves The Bay project

Sarasota City Commission approves The Bay project

The concept would turn the largely concrete-paved bayfront into a lush green oasis.

The City Commission on Thursday rubber-stamped the highly anticipated mega-million dollar redevelopment concept that would turn the city’s largely concrete-paved bayfront into a lush green oasis with ample open space, clear views of the horizon and a new performing arts center free of towering residential or obtrusive commercial development.

The commission unanimously approved the master plan for the 53-acre project, known simply as The Bay, to cheers from an overflow crowd of nearly 300 people who packed City Hall to hear the historic vote. The plans, presented by the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization — which is spearheading the estimated $250 million to $300 million project — call for several pedestrian bridges, a relocated boat ramp, a waterfront promenade, one-acre event lawn, a 3,000- to 4,000-square-foot casual restaurant, smaller food kiosks, a bait and tackle shop, children’s play space, botanical gardens and a cultural district that preserves the Sarasota Garden Club, art center, history center, Blue Pagoda and Municipal Auditorium.

“We really think this is an extraordinarily ambitious legacy project for the community,” said Gina Ford, a design lead for the Sasaki team, the Boston-area planning firm hired by the privately driven planning effort for the site. “We believe in our hearts this has been a community-driven master plan where we have listened every step of the way to this community and what their needs are.”

Thursday’s long-awaited approval comes a decade after the community first envisioned the bayfront’s redevelopment. An original master plan for the site was completed in 2008, but it was shelved because of the Great Recession. The planning organization raised close to $2 million in private funds to move forward with the planning phase and hired Sasaki, which held dozens of public workshops and collected feedback from tens of thousands of area residents and business owners.

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