Downtown business owners feel slighted with talk of a Main Street renovation project and want to know when renovation dollars will be earmarked for what they perceive as a neglected First Street.
Bijou Café chef/owner Jean-Pierre Knaggs told the Downtown Improvement District Tuesday that he’s frustrated that one of the downtown core’s gateways has received no attention and that the city’s main focus seems to be on Main Street.
Knaggs noted that the street is a pedestrian thoroughfare for guests of the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota; he said hotel guests cross U.S. 41 and walk down First Street to come to downtown.
“The problem with that is First Street is the worst-looking street downtown,” Knaggs said. “We are essentially giving off a bad first impression of downtown to Ritz-Carlton guests.”
Knaggs said he’s fed up with old, rusty street lamps and sidewalks and landscaping that need attention.
“We feel like a step-child and we are ignored,” Knaggs said. “I think it’s time we realize First Street is the gateway to downtown from the Ritz-Carlton. We need nice lampposts, safe sidewalks and would greatly appreciate you doing something about it.”
Knaggs noted that his café at 1287 First St. has survived and prospered, even though he was warned by others not to open up on First Street.
“Our downtown has thrived and is growing into a beautiful place that people want to come to at night,” Knaggs said. “But it’s time to give some help to First Street.”
Sarasota merchant Paul Thorpe has also suggested the DID create a project to spruce up First Street.
“This is a gateway to the city used by guests of the Ritz-Carlton to enter downtown, and it’s the worst-looking street in downtown,” said Thorpe, who urged the DID to consider a street enhancement project as it’s doing for Palm Avenue, Main Street and other thoroughfares.
DID Chairman Ernie Ritz and the rest of the DID agreed to put out a bid for a company to create potential enhancement projects for First Street.
“This needs to be done,” Ritz said. “This is a gateway to our city and we need to make it more appealing.”
However, there may be a hurdle to a potential project funded with DID dollars.
The DID boundary map does not include an approximately 500-foot section of First Street from Cocoanut Avenue to U.S. 41.
Any renovation plan must include an agreement from the city to extend the renovation to that portion of the street as well.
Also, the city will not be able to modify the island median on U.S. 41 that pedestrians cross over to access First Street, because it’s a state-operated road.
“The median can’t be touched, but we may be able to beautify the street and enhance a walkway there,” said DID Operations Manager John Moran.
Moran also noted that there are some other beautification projects on First Street in the works, such as a sidewalk.