By Roger Drouin
Downtown shuttle gets rolling
A free, on-demand circulator will be rolling in the heart of the city. The new transit shuttle service was slated to make its debut in downtown Sarasota after the City Commission voted 5-0 Feb. 6 to approve a contract with The Gotcha Group, a Charleston, S.C.-based transportation company that will operate the new transportation service. That means small electric vehicles will soon be traversing up and down Main Street and the downtown area.
The two-year contract will pay up to $338,747.50 to subsidize the private operation, with the goal of making the service self-sustaining by the time the contract is up. To start, the company will operate a fleet of seven six-seat electric vehicles in the downtown area.
The boundaries of the free service are 14th Street, School Avenue, Mound Street and the Sarasota bayfront. Users will be able to request rides via a mobile app, phone number or by hailing a vehicle on the road. The city and The Gotcha Group are targeting an average wait time of 5-10 minutes. The service will run from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
Gotcha Ride largely serves college campuses and operates throughout the southeast, including at Florida State University and the University of Florida, according to its website.
Meanwhile on Siesta Key, Sarasota County Area Transit leaders are working to establish a new open-air trolley service along the key from the village to Turtle Beach, with numerous stops in between.
Sarasota recognized for sustainability initiatives
A local nonprofit called “This Spaceship Earth” has named Sarasota its first “crew friendly” city last month. The nonprofit's leaders define being “crew-friendly” as viewing the planet as a spaceship that all people have a responsibility to take care of as members of its crew. The recognition is the culmination of the city’s recent efforts to prioritize the environment in city planning.
Among those initiatives is the installation of sea-level rise markers in early March on Lido Beach and the creation of a climate change vulnerability assessment and adaptation plan. The sea-level markers will be placed at four entrances to the beach and display how much the sea level is expected to rise over a period of time. On the back of the marker, they will tell people what they can do to offset some of the effects.
According to a city of Sarasota website, the city envisions a sustainable future that unites the three pillars of economic development, social equity, and environmental protection through actions that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. To achieve this, the City of Sarasota's Sustainability program strives to implement projects, programs, and policies to improve the sustainability of city operations and the community.
County seeks input on Ted Sperling Park
Sarasota County Government is looking for input from residents on plans to make improvements to Ted Sperling Park, on Lido Key.
The public is invited to review and provide comments on Sarasota County’s Multi-Year Implementation Plan for an improvement project at the park that would use RESTORE Act funds from the BP oil spill. The review and comment period started today and will be open through Wednesday, April 5. Money for the proposed project will come from the RESTORE Act, the civil penalties paid under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act) for damages associated with British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. According to Sarasota County, 80 percent of the penalties resulting from violation of the Clean Water Act are generally applied toward the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund administered by the U.S. Treasury Department.
The proposed project at Ted Sperling Park at South Lido Beach, located at 2201 Ben Franklin Drive and 190 Taft Drive in Sarasota, will include the following improvements:
Construction of a multi-use recreational trail within the park, completing a segment of the City of Sarasota’s Bayfront multi-use recreational trail
Replacement of an existing wooden boardwalk
At the end of the review and comment period, the plan will be revised if needed and submitted to the U.S. Department of the Treasury for approval. Following approval, the county must apply to the Treasury for project grant funding.
Rep. Gruters requests $15 M for trail
Florida Rep. Joe Gruters has a budget request: He is asking for $15 million in state funding to support the extension of the Legacy Trail into downtown Sarasota. So far this budget year, it is the most expensive budget request from any Florida state representative. Gruters filed H.B. 2109 about a month after the Gulf Coast Community Foundation gifted $50,000 to the Trust for Public Land, which is negotiating on behalf of Sarasota County to buy the railroad corridor for the trail extension. The current Legacy Trail runs 10.6 miles south of Palmer Ranch into south county.
The show goes on
After what he said was the most difficult day of his life, wire-walking legend Nik Wallenda said the “show must go on." Then on Feb. 9 he walked the tightrope during an invitation-only dress rehearsal for Circus Sarasota 2017, which officially opened Feb. 10, on property adjacent to The Mall at University Town Center. The appearance put Wallenda on the wire just one day after a devastating accident in which five of eight troupe members sustained injuries after falling from more than 25 feet in the air during practice.
On Feb.7, a rehearsal for a dramatic eight-person pyramid went resulting in an incident that injured five high-wire circus performers who tumbled about 25 feet, according to news reports. Wallenda, a member of the famed aerialist family, was among three performers on the wire who were not injured Wednesday. He and two others grabbed the wire and didn't fall.
Ballpark gets new name
Last month, the Pittsburgh Pirates put on their cleats and made their way to the tradition-rich ballpark in downtown Bradenton to prepare for the coming baseball season. It's a tradition since 1969, the Pirates first season in Bradenton.
This time, however, they will be playing and practicing at a stadium with a different moniker.
On Feb. 10, the Pirates announced they will now be playing their Grapefruit League games inside LECOM Park, having entered a 15-year naming agreement with the medical college based in Erie, Pennsylvania, that has a branch campus in Bradenton.
Sheriff’s Office to get new HQ
Sarasota County plans to buy a 71,600-square-foot office building just off Interstate 75 to reconfigure into a new Sheriff's Office administration headquarters later this year.
The $16.3 million project will include the purchase and renovation of the corporate office building at 6010 Cattleridge Boulevard — a former office for the Hoveround motorized wheelchairs and scooters — just north of the Bee Ridge Road and I-75 interchange.
It appeared at first that the vote for the new facility would be 4-1. However, after hearing more details regarding the annual debt service and related cost savings, Sarasota County Commissioner Nancy Detert joined her fellow commissioners on the board in approving the approximately $16 million cost for the 71,592-square-foot office building on Cattleridge Boulevard in Sarasota for Sheriff Tom Knight’s administrative staff, evidence storage and consolidation of his department’s scientific divisions, including Forensics and the Drug Lab.
The new office will be designed to supplement the Sheriff's Office location in downtown Sarasota, which has battled roof leaks, rodents and space issues in recent years, and consolidate it with other Sheriff's Office locations throughout the county.
The Cattleridge office is a variation on the public safety campus Sheriff Tom Knight and county leaders had originally planned as part of a $176.2 million voter referendum last year. However, Knight and commissioners ultimately abandoned putting the measure on ballots in last November and instead spent the year figuring how to cut costs for the new office, a new fleet facility and improvements to the south county courthouse projects so they could be constructed without a single, big loan.
As part of that process, the sheriff's staff examined existing office buildings throughout the county for a suitable new home that could be leased and upgraded to meet some of the agency's buildings needs.
Lakewood Ranch sells 10,000th home
Lakewood Ranch has started 2017 with a milestone: It has sold more than 10,000 total homes.
Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch announced 86 new homes were sold in January 2017 — bringing the total number of homes sold in Lakewood Ranch to 10,026, with overall sales values close to $4 billion.
The January figure is a 32-percent increase in new home sales over January 2016. There are more than 20 builders in the master planned community, and more than 50 models with home prices ranging from the $200,000s up to $1-million-plus.
A Vue fight
A battle over the recent rise in downtown development got a little more tense last month. A panel slated to discussion the criticism and merits of the Vue Sarasota Bay condominium and hotel downtown got lively as the community debates the downtown development boom and critics propose expanded citizen input on major projects.
The towering project at the corner of Gulfstream Avenue and U.S. 41 has become the object of intense debate among city residents and neighborhood leaders who believe it is a prime example of city development codes run amok.
The Better Government Association of Sarasota County panel on Feb. 11 titled "The Vue: Model or Mistake?" sought to explore whether changes advocated by groups such as STOP! or the city's current procedure for administrative review of projects are more appropriate, according to a news report in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. But for already tense discussion turned intense — with audience members' interrupting, shouting and sneering throughout the two-hour forum, according to the Herald-Tribune. Ultimately the panel broke little new ground on the subject of the Vue's development approval process, and came to no conclusions on the ongoing questions.