Plans offer differing visions for Sarasota's bayfront

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- Right now, about 45 acres of the Sarasota bayfront is filled by a parking lot, but that space could soon be transformed into a cultural attraction if some local development groups get their way.

"It’s some of the most valuable real estate on the west coast of Florida,” says Steve Queior, the director of the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. He’s talking about the area west of U.S. 41 that extends from Fruitville Road to a spot just north of 10th Street.


"Benefits of the bayfront reaching its full potential would be a strengthened tax base, more places to go to enjoy the arts and culture and our environment, [and] some new jobs -- so kinda a little bit for everyone," says Querior.

The wide reach of the development has sparked much interest and resulted in city officials receiving multiple proposals to develop the area. Among them the “Bayfront 20:20” plan from Visit Sarasota.

"Who gets to enjoy this park right now? Our cars,” says Visit Sarasota president Virginia Haley. “Our cars have a beautiful view of the bayfront and we're the one who should be picnicking in that space."

Visit Sarasota officials say they have been spearheading a grassroots effort that has garnered support of several organizations, but the “Bayfront 20:20” plan is currently in its early stages and doesn't include many specifics.

"We've tried at this point to stay away from specifics, because, again, we really want that to come from the community," Haley says.

But officials say another plan presented to the city offers much greater detail. It’s called the Sarasota Bay Cultural Park Master Development plan, and it was put together through a partnership between Seven Holdings, LLC and Governmental Facilities Development Services.

"This private group has a $250 million dollar alternative plan for the city-owned bayfront," notes Sarasota City Commissioner Susan Chapman, somewhat befuddled by who the people behind the plan actually are.

That plan includes a new $100 million Mote aquarium, 60,000-square-foot conference center, 300 room hotel, parking garage and a new orchestra house at a potential cost of $255 million if it all gets built.

City officials say they are not ready to move forward, however.

"We need to clarify who these people are, where they are going, and set some standards for this property,” Chapman says. “And we need to, as a city, make sure that this public property is used for the public’s benefit."