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Siesta Key Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 1 year ago

Businesses weigh in on SCAT relocation

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by: David Conway News Editor
 

On Feb. 12, a trio of downtown leaders appeared before the Sarasota County Commission to pitch an idea that was gaining momentum: The county should look into moving the downtown Sarasota County Area Transit transfer station.

What started as a proposal from Downtown Improvement District Chairman Ernie Ritz has quickly garnered the support of two other key organizations. Downtown Sarasota Alliance Chairman Mike Beaumier and Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association President Ron Soto appeared alongside Ritz to prod the county to further investigate moving the station.

Soto, owner of Soto’s Optical and also a member of the Downtown Improvement District board, said he surveyed several Main Street businesses to gather feedback on the current location. The response he received was overwhelming, he said.

“I was surprised to find out that not one person out of all the merchants said it should stay there,” Soto said. “The reason, they said, is because they felt it created a cluster right there on First Street and Lemon.”

This logic is the newest argument in favor of moving the station. If it were replaced with a mid-rise development, Soto and Ritz said, the property at First Street and Lemon Avenue could extend the retail experience for people walking through downtown. As a result, they said, overall pedestrian traffic will increase.

“Right now, your shopping experience ends at First Street,” Ritz said. “That bus transfer station ends it.”

Not everybody downtown is on board with moving the station, however. Lisa Charnicharo, co-owner of P.J.’s Boutique on Main Street, likes the current location of the station. She says it has helped her business — she has customers she lets out the back door of her store so they can more easily catch their bus.

“We think it brings people downtown, so we would be sad to see it move,” Charnicharo said.

Robert Bicola is also dependent on the transfer station for his business. Bicola operates a hot dog cart kitty-corner from the station, which says leads to about 50% of his sales. He objected to the argument that the station’s current location exacerbated downtown’s homeless problem.

“They do a good job trying to keep people from loitering around,” Bicola said. “I don’t care where you move it, you’re going to have the same problems.”

Ritz is currently working to schedule a meeting with County Administrator Tom Harmer. His goal is to get the county to officially consider the proposal at a future meeting.

Ritz is optimistic about the chances of the county taking up the issue. For several downtown stakeholders, beginning the conversation is the most important step.

“We support an open dialogue about how to use this important piece of property,” Beaumier said.

WHAT YOU SAID ON THE WEB
Readers shared their thoughts on YourObserver.com.

“The bus station should never have been built in the downtown location on prime retail/residential real estate. Move the station out of downtown, sell the land to a private developer and reap the profits.”
— Milan Adrian

“The present location was chosen by the RIDERS of the bus service as the one that was most convenient for them to access downtown businesses and services. This decision should defer to those who USE the services not to those who just want more money for their coffers.”
— Deborah Markaverich

“ … The reality is where do the riders head for when the bus ride is over. The partner in this is SCAT, and they should survey all riders for a week.

I would think that a large percentage do in fact seek the courthouse or the county officers at Ringling and Main, because those are unique facilities not elsewhere. Employment locations/commuting would also be likely … a new location needs to better serve the public and not the ulterior motives of a minority of downtown residents.”
— Dennis Gries

Contact David Conway at dconway@yourobserver.com

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