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Bay Front Project Caused Turmoil in Sarasota

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Ann Shank, former Sarasota County Historian
Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center
Credit: Sarasota County History Center

Sarasota History - Bay Front Project Caused Turmoil in Sarasota photo

Long before the September 1967 demolition of City Hall at the Hover Arcade, there was much ado surrounding the re-routing of U.S. 41.

In March 1957,  a contract was awarded to a company in Dunedin to begin dredging and construction of a seawall in a new road project that would connect North Tamiami Trail where the South Tamiami Trail connected. The plan called for dredge material to be conveyed to an area just off Bird Key where it would not interfere with local shipping.

By the end of April 1957, battle lines were being drawn to determine who owned the land which was to become U.S. 41; if the plaintiffs prevailed, the building would not happen. The plaintiffs, who were property owners on Gulf Steam Avenue, charged that the highway would deprive them of boating, bathing, fishing, swimming, ability to enjoy the view across the water, and rights of navigation. The plaintiffs said they owned even the bricks in the street and the land under those bricks.

Meanwhile, Phillips submitted a proposal in September 1957 to build a marina in Sarasota similar to the one it built in Ft. Lauderdale. The marina service would be limited to non-commercial boats. No shops, stores, or restaurants were planned, as all of those businesses were readily available in the downtown area.

In April 1958, during a regional meeting of the American Institute of Architects, the bay front project was criticized by many of the attendees. Paul Rudolph complained that the project separated the city from its greatest asset – the water. Rudolph also said that, “Instead of destroying the waterfront, Sarasota should be made into an Italian Venice, up to date.” Other architects were more severe, saying that, “…gorillas, chimpanzees, dogs…could not do worse than they (the city) have done.” One architect said, “It’s murder…it’s a filthy, dirty crime.”

In September 1958, the Sarasota Citizens League in a public forum said that a new convention center was needed, and perhaps the bay front would the place to build it. Complaints were heard against the Auditorium located on the North Trail, including that it was not comfortable and people couldn’t hear in it, and any organizations wanting to use is must book more than a year in advance. Opponents felt the bay front was not the place for such a structure. In an editorial on December 28, 1958, John Hogg, Managing Editor of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune talked about the bay front project. He said that the project should be completed in 1959, but that the citizens could look forward to other areas being torn up to make way for progress. He expressed hope that the Sarasota Garden Club and other organizations that wanted to take part in the beautification portion of the project would be able to do so. He said that a marina would be welcomed by most people, even those who did not own boats, and that active boaters were wanting it built, no matter whose money was used.

Hogg also wrote, “…City Hall poses a problem for officials next year, and it is quite a problem. When the Bay Front is completed, the building will look even more out of place – if that is possible.” He wrote the county was having growing pains as well; courtroom space was running out, and the lack of parking around the current courthouse was reason enough to suspend additional building there.

The August 26, 1959 edition of The News reported that the suit which had been ongoing since April 1957, had been settled. The city would pay $10,000 to the property owners, and rebuild Gulf Stream Avenue. The new paved 26-foot street with sidewalks would mark the end of one of the city’s famous brick streets.