By Stan Zimmerman
Sunshine suit settled
Last year two members of the Downtown Improvement District – which levies property taxes on downtown land owners for improvements– mentioned they erased emails on their personal computers concerning DID business. A lawsuit was inevitable.
Michael Barfield sued the city and DID members Dr. Mark Kaufman and William Pettey. While the emails are public records and it is legal to hold them on a private computer, they must be produced upon demand. Erasure is not an option.
Their hard drives were searched, and some erased emails were recovered. Others were lost. When the legal dancing ended, the city agreed to pay $8,300 in legal fees to Barfield’s attorney.
City Attorney Bob Fournier said the legal fees would be levied against the DID budget. “Dr. Kaufman, I don’t mind the DID paying for that because it doesn’t come out of our pockets,” said Pettey at the Aug. 6 meeting.
Prepare for parking tickets
When the Sarasota City Commission last year yanked parking meters from Main Street, they also produced a huge hole in the city’s budget. This year the parking department needs $500,000 to stay solvent. Ditto next fiscal year, starting in October. The subsidy will come from the city’s reserves, it’s rainy-day fund.
In its budget-balancing ballet in July, city commissioners arbitrarily demanded the parking department come up with $250,000 to help fill the hole next year. When City Manager Tom Barwin visited the parking advisory committee, he left saying, “You know what the goal is. We’re losing $500,000 a year downtown.”
The problem isn’t limited to downtown. A recent parking study indicates both St. Armands Circle and the Hillview area (“Southside Village” to boosters) are showing parking stress too. They and the Marina Jack area are the high-deficit places for parking in the city, not downtown, said Parking Manager Mark Lyons.
He is responsible for coming up with that $250,000 the city commission demands. Spoiler alert: follow the rules or pay the ticket(s).
Big Easy makeover proposed
The iconic triangular building at Five Points in the heart of Downtown is poised for a radical makeover. In early August, the new owner of the building proposed creating what he called “galleries” – or what others would call “balconies” – off the second floor.
Using wrought iron railings and fancy work on the open-air “galleries,” the building would be transformed to a piece of the French Quarter of New Orleans. Chris Brown made the proposal to the Development Review Committee, a streamlined approval body with representatives from all city departments involved in development.
Brown’s project would be the first application of a zoning code category allowing “galleries.” Courtney Mendez, the lead city planner on the project, said: “This is the first gallery [proposed in the city] so we want to move forward cautiously.”
Brown received 32 different questions from the committee before he can proceed. He noted interest in the project is strong. He says he’s signed a letter of intent with “an extremely high-end restaurant” willing to send a design team to Sarasota and make a presentation to the city commission.
The building was home for decades to Patricks Restaurant, and most recently to the Floribean. Brown bought the building this year and closed the Floribean. He owns and operates two successful restaurants on Siesta Key.
Homelessness tops for city issue
When City Commissioner Paul Caragiulo announced he was running for the county commission in August, he cited homelessness as the top issue. When newly elected City Commissioner Susan Chapman was asked the top issue of her 2013 campaign, she said it was homelessness.
City and County Commissioners agreed to hire a national consultant on homelessness – Dr. Robert Mabut – to spend the fall in the area and develop a plan to tackle this priority.
Meanwhile the city’s primary organizational tool addressing homelessness – the Salvation Army – geared up its own plans under the leadership of a new manager, Maj. Ethan Frizzell.
He held a town-hall meeting in early August under rain-drenched skies to announce several new initiatives for “the Sally” (as the homeless call it). Frizzell will establish a home for homeless women, who are often the subject of rape and abuse while sleeping on the streets.
And he’ll re-open shelters for homeless families. While they will only be available for two-week stints, it allows them to re-orient and re-build their lives. Frizzell is a new actor in the homeless drama, as is new Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin, new Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino and newly-hired consultant Marbut.