By Stann Zimmerman
Shelter plan to be unveiled
The consultant hired by the City and County of Sarasota is due to unveil his suggestion for the location of a new homeless shelter in late November. Robert Marbut’s contract calls for him to make at least one suggestion for the location.
Two Sarasota City Commissioners are already saying it should not be inside city limits. District One Commissioner – and vice mayor – Willie Shaw says he will not support establishment of another human services agency in north Sarasota.
Commissioner At-Large Susan Chapman says homeless and vagrancy are regional issues, and the new facility should reflect that by being somewhere else besides inside the City of Sarasota.
Marbut asked a min-census be conducted to determine the number of people sleeping without shelter in Sarasota County. More than 25 social service agencies volunteered their help, and homeless people too, found more than 1,700 people in the county that are considered homeless.
Legacy Trail expansion eyed
The hiking and biking trail from Venice to Clark Road has proved a huge success with the public. Now a “friends of the trail group” proposes pushing it northward to Payne Park east of downtown Sarasota.
Bruce Dillon, with the “Friends of the Legacy Trail” said while public money would be appreciated, he anticipated private donations will be a major part of the funding scheme.
The trail follows the right-of-way of the Seminole Gulf Railway, which is leased from the CSX Corporation. The existing trail south of Clark Road was purchased by Sarasota County. The rails and ties were removed, and an asphalt path created. For the next leg, Dillon says the Seminole Gulf Railway’s chief executive officer suggested creating the path alongside the existing tracks.
The next step is getting city and county approval for a feasibility study.
Newtown ‘history wall’ is back up
Last year some residents of North Sarasota were shocked to see a row of historical markers was missing from Fredd Atkins park at the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Washington Boulevard.
Years ago neighborhoods, local businesses and the William and Marie Selby Foundation raised $100,000 for plaques commemorating local African-American pioneers. In these days of metal thieves, the missing monuments were a cause of grave concern.
Then the city’s manager of landscape, parks and environment said he was the culprit. He had ordered the bronze markers removed so the wall could be repaired. A mere 10 months later, the history wall is back, the wall stuccoed and repainted a vivid orange.
GWIZ building future uncertain
After the Gulf Coast Wonder and Imagination Zone (GWIZ) closed its doors for good late this summer, responsibility for the building fell back on its owner – the City of Sarasota.
The 33,000 square-foot foot building has an admirable view of Sarasota Bay, but it is expensive to operate and maintain. The electricity averages about $4,500 per month. And the roof has always been a headache to keep sealed.
The city wants to lease the property, but under rules of the state transfer of land, it can only be used for a non-profit use. It was built as a county library, and then became GWIZ.
What it will be next will be decided by responses to a city request for proposals. Under terms of the Cultural District Master Plan, the building could become a contemporary art museum; a modern art museum; an expansion of the Art Center Sarasota; a film center, a maritime museum, a new site for the Sarasota County History Center; or a maritime, educational or cultural institution.
Changes afoot for retail
Sarasota merchants and their landlords are bracing for the opening of a huge new mall at University Boulevard and I-75 late next year. The shopping Mecca is being built and managed by Benderson Development.
It has retailers on St. Armands Key, downtown Sarasota and other shopping venues working to keep their operations viable in the face of a new and beguiling competitor. One tactic long awaited for downtown is longer hours for retailers.
The city’s Economic Development Director Norm Gollub says some downtown commercial property owners are considering provisions to their lease to keep merchants’ doors open longer.
Meanwhile both the Downtown Improvement District and the St. Armands Business Improvement District boards will soon hire a consultant to determine if either or both areas should try to limit the growth of restaurants at the expense of retail. “Once it’s a restaurant, it almost never comes back to retail,” said BID Chair Marty Rappaport.
Parking continues to bedevil both downtown and St. Armands. The BID wants to see at least one parking structure, and maybe two be built. A recent parking study indicated St. Armands was short more than 1,000 spaces. And speaking of parking garages, the one on State Street downtown will be months late because Sarasota City Commissioners took several months to figure out what design they desired. It is supposed to open in February 2015, under terms of an agreement with Pineapple Square.
Said Pineapple Square’s John Simon, “The last thing you worry about when you go to a mall is parking. For downtown, it’s the first thing.”