Photo: People kayaking on the bay

The Bay’s Birthday: One Year. One Park for All

Posted on September 27, 2023 by Stephanie Crockatt, President & CEO of The Bay Park Conservancy
As The Bay prepares to celebrate its first year as an iconic community connector, it will blow out its birthday candle with enthusiastic aspirations for the next 14-acre phase of improvements. Coming into this stage of park development as the conservancy’s new CEO, I can attest that what is being created here is an incredible example of community vision and collaboration, and the story behind it is inspiring.

Not every city is so fortunate to have the ability to build a brand new public greenspace deep within its urban fabric, along a major body of water, and in the heart of a cultural district. Not every city is progressive enough to embrace a public-private partnership in which an independent nonprofit becomes the facilitator and steward of a public asset. And not every city or region has the overwhelming support of its philanthropic community to activate such a bold initiative – an initiative that, as of this summer, has been crowned an award-winning park space.

Thanks to the generosity of the City of Sarasota, Sarasota County, The Patterson Foundation, and other key partners, the delightful benefits of what a resident or new visitor will experience when they discover The Bay is built squarely upon solid shoulders of support. This park did not just emerge one day from the rubble of a parking lot; it took years of planning and aspiration. The Patterson Foundation was at the forefront of the initial planning, embracing the community vision, and is heralded for being a strong, steady, and significant philanthropic catalyst in fostering continued growth to this day. The impactful matching donation incentives bestowed have resonated with energy and purpose for a greater good.

What I have learned in my first 100 days is that there is an incredible history to this special park and its first 10 acres. From the site’s indigenous beginnings of centuries ago to the courageous citizen vision for what could be revitalized a decade or so ago, this space is a transformational landscape that seamlessly intersects every facet of human vitality. The Bay embraces environmental conservation with social and cultural inclusion; it is a vibrant and living piece of public art that interlinks health, welfare, and education. This green and blue oasis is a hub of human interest, a free and welcoming gathering space – where everyone belongs every day. It is One Park for All. Since opening, the park has seen over 200,000 users enjoy and participate in free activities, programs, and sheer leisure.

The Bay Park and its stewarding conservancy will continue to blossom thanks to the seeds of unrestricted philanthropy sewn, allowing it to grow as a rare and wonderful example of positive public achievement. The role of the Bay Park Conservancy is evolving and remains essential as it facilitates the future park design while partnering to operate, maintain, and financially sustain this important public space – working hard to safeguard the investments made – for generations to come.

So, as The Bay’s first-year candle wish is made, it is with pride, joy, and gratitude that the next park phase will be built upon such a successful beginning. Phase two will take three to four years to complete and is kicking off this September with rounds of public engagement and input. It is exciting to be part of something so meaningful and everlasting. It is exciting to be part of a community and project with inspiring philanthropic champions like The Patterson Foundation.

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