Photo: Sarasota Bayfront

Applauding Bayfront 20:20's Visionary Efforts

Posted on June 05, 2019 by Michael Klauber
Editor’s Note: Michael Klauber has volunteered as chair of Sarasota Bayfront 20:20 and serves on the board of the Bay Park Conservancy. The following was adapted from his remarks during the final meeting of Sarasota Bayfront 20:20’s stakeholders.

It was on October 1, 2013, on a Sarasota Chamber Inter-City learning trip to Nashville with Visit Sarasota County president Virginia Haley and others, when I first challenged the Sarasota City and County officials and community leaders who were on that trip. There was talk among those officials about “dusting off” the old Sarasota Bayfront failed master plan from 2006-2007. I asked the question, “Is this the way we want to approach this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with all of this public land? With this chance to do something great for future generations, will our grandchildren look back and thank us for our vision? Is anyone thinking about what we can create on this amazing public space for all of our community to enjoy?” The big answer was “no.” It became very clear to me that no one was looking at the big picture. At that time there were almost 75 acres of city-owned land and other significant surrounding parcels in play at the same time!

A week later, our Visit Sarasota County’s Board of Directors held a retreat. As the new Board Chair, I shared with them an enlarged aerial photograph of the bayfront outlining all the properties in play — and I asked the same question. There were a lot of surprised looks, and they quickly agreed we needed a bigger vision for this property. They gave Virginia Haley, Shantel Norman and I their full backing to commit ourselves to this mission. We were off on our journey!

A month later, we got our first of many amazing gifts – this time from Teri Hansen – then President/CEO of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation in the form of Jon Thaxton, whose talents and knowledge quietly guided our direction and path of community and government engagement. And what a gift he has been!

We then began what would turn out to be hundreds and hundreds of community meetings. Bayfront 20:20 began to grow as more and more stakeholders joined our organization. And while those meetings may have been a bit of a burden on our schedules, I can’t tell you how much fun they truly were, giving us a real grassroots knowledge of the community. I have loved every minute of getting to know the wonderful diversity of our amazing Sarasota!

I can still remember how nervous I was when giving our first presentation to CCNA on March 1, 2014. To my great surprise, our passionate neighborhood leaders gave us great reviews on our vision, and then, former Mayor Mollie Cardamone initiated the unanimous vote to give CCNA’s approval of the Bayfront 20:20 vision. Wow!

Two days later, we went before a very surprised Sarasota City Commission to present our concept, winning permission to let Bayfront 20:20 begin a community planning process for the bayfront.

Drayton Saunders and I successfully presented the concept to groups of our early believers as we were looking for funding, and with those funds, we brought Candace Damon of HR&A Advisors onboard to help with crafting our vision and guiding principles. In June 2014, we had our first community brainstorming retreat with them at The Sarasota Garden Club.

That fall was the first of many Sarasota Herald-Tribune Community forums with Opinion Editor, Tom Tryon. Throughout all of 2014, we were constantly refining the Guiding Principles that would be the heart and soul of the future redevelopment of our Bayfront.

On February 17, 2015, after a few positive tweaks from our Sarasota City Commission, they unanimously adopted our Bayfront 20:20 Guiding Principles! Wow again!

Then another great gift came our way out of “the blue.” Debra Jacobs and The Patterson Foundation stepped in and helped us by providing professional expertise to help a small team of us to craft the necessary governance for the master planning process. In summer of 2016, as that structure was finalized, The Patterson Foundation again stepped up with a challenge gift to raise the funds for the master planning and the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization. Drayton Saunders, Veronica Brady and Sean Merriman led the fundraising challenge and ultimately met the $2 million goal!

In the Fall of 2016, the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization became a reality with a truly amazing board of directors including AG Lafley. As our first Chair, he has given his all, every step of the way!

With a very public and transparent process, our new board went through the arduous task of selecting a bayfront Master Planning firm from over 20 applicants! The SBPO board ultimately selected the Sasaki team, and throughout 2018, Sasaki engaged all of us in the master planning process. On September 6, 2018, we presented our dream for the future of our Bayfront to the Sarasota City Commission. To our delight, all of this hard work and planning culminated in our City Commission unanimously adopting our Master Plan and approving the creation of a Conservancy to guide the implementation of the master plan! Wow and wow!

Last month, on April 15, after the SBPO team spent months developing a formal working document to take the implementation of the bayfront master plan forward, the City Commission once again unanimously approved the Sarasota Bay Park Conservancy/City of Sarasota Partnership Agreement with our Bayfront 20:20 Guiding Principles as part of the Agreement! Wow, wow, wow!

And just last week, Debra Jacobs and The Patterson Foundation surprised us again when they announced a new challenge for our Bay Park Conservancy with their commitment of $5 million in catalytic funding for our first phaseF! A big wow!

I felt it was really important to remind ourselves of all of our accomplishments. I have met so many new friends along this journey. Many of our 60+ stakeholder organizations worked together for the very first time in a historic alliance the City of Sarasota and our entire region have never seen before. There is already significant philanthropic support coming from local foundations and individuals that will ensure our success. With our Guiding Principles formally memorialized in the new Partnership agreement, our Bayfront 20:20 work is done.

Jon Thaxton reminded me that Bayfront 20:20 is like a child who was given a great upbringing with great life values. Now we are sending that child off to college. Thus, we begin a new chapter with our relationship with that child – still checking in – still providing guidance when needed – still responding to those requests for money! But now, we can all embrace a sense of pride in how our child has grown up and is blossoming as an adult!

I’m not going anywhere, and I will continue my work as a member of the Bay Park Conservancy Board to help see our dreams become reality for future generations of our children and grandchildren to enjoy. It is my hope that we will all stay involved in the work of the Bay Park Conservancy as the details of Phase 1 emerge along with the activation of that first portion of the park.

And one last reminder – in naming our organization Sarasota Bayfront 20:20 more than five years ago, we hoped to see great progress by the year 2020, and we used the ocular 20:20 because we knew it was going to take clear, focused vision the get us there. Well, together, patiently, we have done just that, and I feel confident we will be planting trees on the first phase by the end of this year!

Congratulations and thank you to all of our stakeholders and their constituents for their persistence, hard work, and passion for the future of our Sarasota! Let’s all get started on building our new park!

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