Female Factor

Gina Ford and Susannah Ross are the Design Leaders of Sarasota’s Biggest Cultural Improvement Project in 50 Years

Called The Bay, the project will transform 53 acres of underutilized city waterfront that, up until now, has mostly been a vast parking lot for the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

By Ilene Denton June 27, 2018 Published in the July 2018 issue of Sarasota Magazine

Gina Ford and Susannah Ross

Image: Barbara Banks

Gina Ford and Susannah Ross, of the Boston-based planning and development firm Sasaki, call it a once-in-a-lifetime project, an extraordinary opportunity to turn that chunk of bayfront land near downtown—stretching from the long-empty G.WIZ building northward up to the Centennial Park boat ramps—into a public gathering space “that’s used and loved all year,” says Ross.

The pair met in graduate school at Harvard, where they earned master’s degrees in landscape architecture. Sasaki has a long history of waterfront redevelopment projects, and Ford and Ross have worked together on several of them, including the 90-acre Council Bluffs, Iowa River Edge Park and the 32-acre Cincinnati Riverfront Park.

The team presented three preliminary schemes for The Bay in April and will be sifting through more than 2,000 online responses to present a final schematic to the Sarasota City Commission in September.

Public parks are where cities are investing time and resources. “It’s what 21st-century cities are all about,” says Ford, “this incredible, multifaceted thing: environmental benefit, cultural heritage, and oftentimes it creates a high level of economic return.”

The central challenge for Sarasota, Ford says, is that it’s “a big and magnificent undertaking for a relatively small community.”

The key, they say, is not dictating solutions, but rather facilitating conversations about what residents want, with an aptitude for listening at which women are particularly adept. And, indeed, of the 14 firms from across the country that vied for the chance to steward The Bay, theirs was the only women-led team. “A project like this transforms the way a community thinks about itself and projects itself to the world,” adds Ross. 

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