Civic responsibility is a quality many people aspire to have. But not many put it into action as much as Chris Gallagher.
The senior designer at Sarasota firm Jonathan Parks Architect took a five-year sabbatical from his architectural career to become headmaster of New Gate School. Not because he wanted to — he really didn’t. And not because his wife thought it would be a good idea — she was dead-set against it.
“I was concerned about the school and felt a great sense of responsibility,” he said.
Gallagher designed New Gate. He sat on its board. His two children attended the school, and all his friends were other parents there. But he had no educational training. After a few months, the school’s board finally convinced him to take the job and sign a five-year contract.
“It was the toughest thing I ever did, but it was one of the most rewarding,” said Gallagher. “To go outside and see 20 2-year-olds together — it’s extraordinary.”
Gallagher has embarked on another one of his civic duties that he performs because he feels nobody else will: parking
He volunteers his time advocating for paid parking and the deregulation of the city’s maze of parking requirements.
Gallagher believes in a free-market approach to parking code. Instead of the city dictating how many parking spaces each specific type of business needs, he prefers to let a business owner decide how much parking he needs. If he builds too few spaces and customers are chased away, that’s his own mistake.
“Why should a bureaucrat decide how much parking a business should own?” he asks. “In the end, you have a bunch of nonsense.”
Ahead of the expected spring implementation of downtown parking meters, Gallagher has been visiting groups such as the Downtown Improvement District, St. Armands Business Improvement District,
Downtown Sarasota Alliance and Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce to gauge their thoughts on a series of paid-parking questions:
Should parking-meter revenue be reinvested into the area where the meters are? Should paid parking only be implemented where there is a consistent lack of available parking? What time of day should paid parking begin and end?
Gallagher is not being paid for his efforts. He’s not being asked by a particular group or entity to submit his questionnaire. He’s going it on his own accord. Civic responsibility.
“I want a vibrant downtown, and parking is overlooked as a factor in that,” he said.
The designer has a whole host of other duties he performs. He sits on the city’s Planning Board, chairs the chamber’s Governmental Issues Council, hosts a cable-television show and writes a blog on urban-planning and architectural issues.
With all those extracurriculars, one might wonder how Gallagher is able to squeeze in time for his paying job.
As a senior designer at Jonathan Parks Architect, he is the man behind the Palm Avenue parking garage, which is drawing rave reviews.
“The reaction has been, ‘Wow,’” he says proudly.
Also on his design resume: the storefront for 1516 Main St., which is currently being built; the exterior of a swimwear store on First Street, which will soon be constructed; a historic home renovation on Siesta Key; and his personal favorite — Citrus Square.
The retail/condo development two blocks north of Fruitville Road on North Orange Avenue has a distinct European feel — a three-story building, set back just 10 feet from the road, with brightly colored
storefronts, oversized doors and small wrought-iron balconies on the second- and third-floor residences.
Gallagher is so fond of the building that he and his wife live there.
Hometown: Lowell, Mass.
Family: Married with two children
Education: Bachelor’s degree in environmental design from University of Massachusetts and master’s degree in architecture from the University of Colorado
Occupation: Senior designer at Jonathan Parks Architect
Contact Robin Roy at email@example.com