Off Key

| June 1, 2016

By Bob Frederickson

From Two Views of the Vue to Dozing in Class

One Way Vue?

The name chosen for the tony new high rise taking shape on U.S. 41 at Gulfsttream Avenue has different meanings, depending on one’s point of view; the first relates to the image the building’s developers likely have in mind for potential buyers, while the second makes something of a turn from their marketing plan in the reaction to the building from ordinary folks who will probably never live there.

The project is called ‘Vue Sarasota Bay’ for the breathtaking vistas of the bayfront it promises for those willing and able to fork over $1.5 to $3.4 million to take up residence within it’s gleaming walls; but for the rest of us the name is more akin to a mocking reminder of the breathtaking vistas of the bay now blocked from ‘vue’ by this massive architectural hiccup.

It reminds this writer of the construction of the 52-story Olympic Tower on 5th Avenue in New York in the 1970s right alongside the landmark St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The finished tower dwarfed and diminished that magnificent structure…a structure that had majestically dominated that block of 5th Avenue for over a century. Now it literally stands in its newer neighbor’s shadow.

But that champion of New Urbanism, Andrés Duany, is likely thrilled to see the Manhattanization of Sarasota. Meantime, the rest of us are left to shake our heads over this misplaced conceit so out of rhyme with its surroundings…and to further wonder why Duany should be the one consultant the city paid for advice over the past several decades whom city leaders actually listened to (instead of simply ignoring after writing them a fat check as is their usual pattern).

I only wish former Herald Tribune Architecture critic Joan Altabe was around to offer what I’m sure would be an entertaining take on the recent developments downtown. I’ll never forget her classic critique of the then new Sarasota library shortly after it opened in 1998, comparing it to an upside down wedding cake.

‘Go East Young Man, Go East!’

Other than blocked views and tangled traffic, there’s another downside to the condo boom downtown, one illustrated by the recently announced decision of the Players Theatre to move out of Sarasota to new digs in Lakewood Ranch. It follows the move or closing of at least two other downtown businesses recently, Ryder Bikes and Patchington boutique.

With escalating land values driven by starter residences at properties like the Vue starting at $1 million plus (and escalating quickly from there to $3 million plus) how long will property owners be able to afford the taxes on their land before deciding to sell out and move to lower cost communities? The issue doesn’t affect just homeowners, but businesses and civic groups too…the very businesses and attractions that draw folks to city life in the first place.

The Players has been downtown for over 80 years. But with its North Trail property now carrying a market value of $12 million or more, the longtime fixture of the downtown arts community has decided to sell its building and land and invest the proceeds in a new theater complex in Lakewood Ranch. Can’t blame them. Their planned Players Centre for the Performing Arts at Lakewood Ranch’s recently announced Waterside Development will feature a state of the art 480 seat theater as well as a 120 seat cabaret style theater featuring restaurant service.

But it won’t be downtown.

And it’s not just the loss of large profile ‘players’ like The Players Theatre. What about the little guy? As escalating land prices drive taxes up and rents follow, how will unique, family run businesses be able to afford or justify their continued presence downtown? I’m thinking of places like Reese Chevron Auto Service on Main Street…a fixture in the city since at least 1952 when current owner Rick Reese’s grandfather bought the property. It’s the only place I’m aware of today in the area where you can still get a ‘full service’ fill-up. (For those too young to remember, that’s where an attendant actually pumps your fuel for you, checks your oil and washes your windshield while you remain in your vehicle and do some people watching of folks ambling by outside your window…I know, it’s a startling concept…looking ar something other than a tiny blue screen).

The business offers honest, reliable service and repair work for a fair price and is easily accessible to anyone living nearby. But for how long? Reese jokingly calls the business ‘a non-profit,’ though that’s certainly not his intent when he gets up each morning to take care of his fiercely loyal customers.

The value of the property certainly points to a ‘higher’ use than as a service station. But what higher use is there than to provide a service people need at a fair price and one that allows you and your employees to do what you enjoy? That may be a quaint idea, but it’s also kind of cool if you ask me. And I hope Rick and his family (and their employees) are able to continue to operate the business well into the future…at least as long as there is a market for what they offer and they still find the work rewarding. But I certainly won’t be shocked or surprised if I pass by one day and see a sign promising a new high rise going up with a fancy misspelled name.

Fast forward to 2050 and a vision of the ultimate irony for the city of Sarasota: a lifeless town filled with condos, but few if any unique, homegrown businesses remaining. No Thunder by the Bay to annoy residents. No live music after four in the afternoon. No homeless folks to alternately annoy or entertain us (i.e. Donald Gould on piano on a downtown corner). No anything. Just a sleepy, sterile bedroom community for Lakewood Ranch.

A New Frontier in Customer Service?

Scores of local customers still dealing with internet, cable and phone outages related to Verizon’s recent sale of its local land operations to Frontier (a deal completed on April Fool’s Day, by the way) must feel like they’ve landed in the wild, wild west. The irony that a communications business could fail so miserably at communicating with its customers is as startling as it is discouraging, especially for those affected. Complaints have ranged from long hold times when calling the company to report problems, to calls going unanswered altogether to missed repair appointments. And if you happen to have a bundled service that includes Voice Over Internet for phone, well, lucky you…you don’t even have the benefit of a working house phone available to call the company and have your complaints ignored.

Floridians, a high proportion of which are elderly, are especially vulnerable to service interruptions. And we’re not just talking about missing the latest episode of Wheel of Fortune. Imagine a hurricane or other natural disaster, a family emergency or a medical issue?

All of which prompted Florida AG Pam Bondi to get involved last week, calling the company on the carpet for its epic Failure to Communicate. In a press release covering a meeting she called with company honchos, she relayed their assurances that they are aware of the problems (always good to know) and are working to correct them as quickly as possible. She also listed a phone number the company has created just for Florida residents to call if they are still experiencing problems. Early reports indicate that frustrated customers have been able to get through to the company on that line. That number: 1-888-457-4110.

If any of you are still having customer service headaches with Frontier we’d like to hear from you so we can call and possibly be ignored as well. No, actually, we’d like to see how widespread the problem may still be locally. You can email us (from a friend’s house or your smart phone if your email is down???) at the following address: islandvp@verizon.net. Please put ‘Frontier’ in the subject line

Dozin’ in American Lit. Class…

I started a story in last month’s Siesta Sand about the landscaping improvements at Siesta Beach with the famous quote from Joyce Kilmer: “I think I shall never see, A poem as lovely as a tree…”

That part was all well and good, but I then went on to refer to Kilmer as a ‘Ms.’ instead of a ‘Mr.' My apologies to Mr. Kilmer and his memory, his family and any and all of you who paid better attention in your American literature classes than I did.

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Category: Columns

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