By Roger Drouin
City Commission race underway
The race for two at-large Sarasota City Commission seats is on, and it is a full house.
On Jan. 13, the field of candidates for the March 14 Sarasota City Commission was finalized — with eight individuals running for two at-large seats on the board. The candidates in the citywide at-large election include one incumbent and seven other residents. The candidates are: Jennifer Ahearn-Koch, neighborhood leader; Fredd “Glossie” Atkins, former mayor; Hagen Brody, attorney; Susan Chapman, incumbent city commissioner; Patrick Gannon, planning board member; Martin Hyde, small business owner; Mikael Sandstrom, marketing and technology professional; Matt Sperling, retired investment banker.
If two candidates do not win a majority in the March 14 election, a runoff will be held May 9.
Braves chose Sarasota as Spring home
The Atlanta Braves have announced that they are exclusively negotiating with Sarasota County to be the team’s new spring training home. The new facilities would be in North Port, specifically within the planned West Villages development.
Jeff Maultsby, the director of business and economic development for Sarasota County, called Jan 17 — when the exclusive negotiating period was announced — a landmark day, but stressed that the deal is not yet finalized.
The planned $75 to $80 million spring training complex in the West Villages area near U.S. 41 and River Road hinges on a series of public funding commitments, including a $20 million state grant designed to help retain Major League Baseball teams' spring training facilities in Florida.
According to a press release from Sarasota County, the Atlanta Braves have announced that Sarasota County is the destination for the team’s new spring training complex, and the team is in exclusive negotiations with the county and its partners at the West Villages.
If the terms of an agreement can be reached, the Braves will move their spring training operations from Central Florida to Sarasota County as soon as the 2019 spring season, said Braves Chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk, who has been leading the team’s efforts to secure a new spring training site.
“We appreciate the patience of all parties during this process,” said McGuirk. “This is the perfect location for our team and we couldn’t be more excited to be part of Sarasota County and West Villages."
In March of 2016, the Board of County Commissioners authorized County Administrator Tom Harmer to negotiate with the Braves, and in June the team asked for more time to continue the discussions.
“There’s still a lot of work to do to finalize the terms, agreements and approvals necessary, but this announcement is a major step forward in the efforts to bring the Braves to our area,” Harmer said. “Continuing to expand sports tourism is high on the county’s list, and the opportunity to bring a major sports anchor to the City of North Port could have a significant impact in South County.”
Venice to celebrate 90th anniversary
City officials and historians are preparing for a year-long celebration of the city's 90th anniversary, with walking tours, parties and a showcase exhibit at the Venice Museum & Archives. Monthly events are slated to start in February, when the Venice Museum & Archives opens with a visual exhibit documenting the city's birth and growth.
James Hagler, the city's historical resources director, is working on a pictorial history that will cover the beginning with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, the low point of the Great Depression, when the city population fell to less than 500, then the growth points with the arrival of Kentucky Military Institute, the Venice Army Air Field and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
City approves World of Beer liquor license
On Jan. 5, the Sarasota City Commission recommended approval of a new liquor license for World of Beer. The 3-2 vote capped a contentious approval project for the controversial project downtown.
The state required that the restaurant and bar which opened at 1888 Main Street recently obtain a 4COP license, a process requiring city approval. The bar is located in the burgeoning entertainment area of east main street in downtown Sarasota.
Seventeen months after the restaurant and bar World of Beer opened at 1888 Main St., owner Mark Broderick headed to City Hall in hopes of getting a liquor license for his business. But residents at nearby Rivo at Ringling condominiums were concerned that, if World of Beer leaves and a new business moves into the space at 1888 Main St., there will be more noise-related issues.
Sarasota County upgrades more traffic signals
As part of the ongoing effort to improve traffic flow, Sarasota County will expand and upgrade the region's advanced traffic management system to several new areas throughout the Sarasota area this year.
The $2.8 million project, funded by the Florida Department of Transportation, will add three miles of fiber optic network to add 34 area intersections into the system run from the Sarasota-Manatee Regional Traffic Center in Manatee County. The center is the brain for the traffic signals and cameras at hundreds of intersections across both counties and in the cities of Sarasota and Bradenton. At the center, officials can time signals, monitor traffic patterns and manage communication across the entire system. The new project will be the fifth phase in Sarasota County of the effort to improve how traffic flows. Many of the signals to be added to the network during this phase will be on stretches of Lockwood Ridge, 17th Street, Proctor Road and Fruitville Road east of Interstate 75. Other stretches include Tuttle Avenue near Desoto Road, Bee Ridge Road near Interstate 75 and South Sumter Boulevard in North Port.
Visit Sarasota launches new brand
“Take It Easy. No Rigid Schedule. Just enjoy the area and spend some time with the people you traveled here with.” That’s the message behind the new Visit Sarasota County brand campaign.
After a year of market and third-party research, Visit Sarasota County has settled on the new brand campaign. The new marketing campaign aims to leave visitors longing for some chill time in Sarasota County, where visitors can choose to go to the beach or a museum, or they can shop St. Armands Circle. The area, announced Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, at a brand reveal presentation, is about taking some time to enjoy the area and family. During the rebranding process, the organization studied proven markets such as New York and Chicago to see what appealed to people there. One of the most noticeable changes to the logo is the omission of the word “county.” Research showed that larger markets perceived the term as rural and not fitting with the overall theme of the region.
When possible, the logo will appear with a list of several communities beneath it. That version features Longboat Key, St. Armands, Lido Key, Siesta Key, Casey Key, Venice, Manasota Key, Englewood and North Port.
Manatee County swears in new sheriff
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office swore in its new sheriff Jan. 2.
Col. Rick Wells was sworn in at the Bradenton Area Convention Center. He has served as the second in command at the sheriff’s office since 2015 and served as the chief of police for the Palmetto Police Department from 2010 to 2015. He has more than 30 years in law enforcement.
Wells replaces Sheriff Brad Steube, who retired after 10 years as Manatee County’s sheriff and a long career with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
Sarasota Square mall loses Macy’s
Macy’s is leaving Sarasota Square Mall, as the department store announced it is closing dozens of stores nationwide following a sluggishs holiday shopping season. The store will close by the middle of the year.
The department store giant announced on Wednesday that it is eliminating more than 10,000 jobs and plans to move up 68 store closures after a disappointing holiday shopping season. The company on its website listed the south Sarasota store as one of 57 "Year-end closings." The list included four other Florida stores, at University Square in Tampa, Lakeland Square in Lakeland, and in Oviedo and West Palm Beach.
The 143,000 square-foot Sarasota store opened in 1977 and employs 86 people, according to the Macy's website. This move follows an announcement in August that the retailer expected to close 100 stores in 2017 following poor second-quarter sales.
This is the second time in recent years that the department store giant has pulled a store from a Southwest Florida mall. DeSoto Square Mall lost its Macy's in 2014 before the company opened a new store at the Mall at University Town Center. Macy's still operates stores at Westfield Southgate and Port Charlotte Town Center.
Macy's said Wednesday said in its Jan. 4 announcement that sales at its established stores fell 2.1 percent in November and December compared to the same period last year. The company pointed to changing consumer behavior and said its performance reflects the challenges that are facing much of the retail industry. Macy’s plans to close 68 stores now, sell some of its real estate holdings, and eliminate more than 10,000 jobs. It plans to invest some of its savings in growing its digital business.
Lakewood Ranch to get new grocer
Lakewood Ranch is getting a new project called The Green, a shopping plaza that will be anchored by an Earth Fare grocery store and a yet-to-be named fitness center.
Tavistock Development Company’s approximately 40-acre project, which will include salons, restaurants and neighborhood uses, as well, will be located at the northeast corner of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and State Road 70.
An Earth Fare recently opened in Seminole, Florida, in September. For that opening, more than 500 people lined up early in the morning to be the first through the door.