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Sarasota Bay and its downtown bayfront have long been considered the brightest jewels in Sarasota's crown. In 1910 Bertha Palmer, who helped put Sarasota on the international map, proclaimed Sarasota Bay more beautiful than the Bay of Naples. From the time of its earliest inhabitants, the bayfront has played an important role in the area's history and culture. In 1886 the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company built a pier that extended off lower Main Street; Harry Higel, a major force in the early development of Sarasota, later purchased the pier and operated a steamship service between Sarasota and Tampa. In 1911 Higel sold the pier to the Hover Brothers of Lima, Ohio, who built the Hover Arcade, a mix of Mediterranean styles with distinctive towers on either side of the archway leading to the pier. The Hover Arcade, purchased by Sarasota in 1917, became the city hall, and in 1921, it temporarily housed the newly formed county government as well. The popular city pier, a focal point for the community, provided residents and visitors with boat slips, a restaurant, and a place to fish.
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In 1954, the city and county supported a proposal to construct a four-lane Bayfront Drive to alleviate downtown traffic, provide
an adequate approach to the Ringling Causeway, and allow motorists to enjoy the beauty of Sarasota Bay. Not everyone supported the plan, including some Gulf Stream Avenue residents who filed for an injunction in 1957 to stop construction. The residents ultimately lost the case, and the dredge-and-fill project proceeded to completion. Another dredge-and-fill project created Island Park in 1964. Completed in 1965, Marina Mar, today's Marina Jack, included a restaurant and a marina. The Hover Arcade, deemed obsolete, was demolished in 1967. Today the bayfront continues to be a center of cultural and community life for both residents and visitors. Various artworks enhance the bayfront; benches and swings invite people to sit, relax, and enjoy beautiful Sarasota Bay; and a playground and splash park delight children. Famed high wire walker, seventh-generation member of the circus troupe The Great Wallendas and Sarasota resident, Nik Wallenda selected the popular bayfront for a daring high wire walk across Bayfront Drive (US Hwy 41) in 2013.