A possible move of the 2014 Sarasota Chalk Festival from Burns Square to the Rosemary District could mean a wider expanse of asphalt for pavement art, nearby parking for eventgoers and a new scene in an area slated for redevelopment.
It could also alleviate a contentious situation in which some Burns Square merchants have vocally protested the duration of the festival, saying it has caused a disruption to their businesses because only one main street runs through the heart of the quaint commercial district.
Denise Kowal, founder and chairwoman of the Chalk Festival, said she is considering moving the festival to another location near downtown, and one of those possibilities is Lemon Avenue in the Rosemary District.
In November 2007, the first year of the event, about 5,000 people attended, and it hosted 22 artists. Last year’s event hosted 500 artists, including 50 international artists, who expressed their talent for 200,000 eventgoers during the 10-day festival.
Last year’s chalk festival, which has always been held in Burns Square, carried a “Circus City” theme; the 2013 festival will honor veterans.
“We’ve grown in five years to a massive success,” Kowal said.
But, as the festival has grown, it has frustrated some Burns Square business owners, who have voiced concern that the closure of South Pineapple Avenue and other side streets during last year’s lengthy festival deterred local and seasonal customers from frequenting their businesses and could continue to do so during future events.
LeeAnne Swor, owner of L. Boutique at 556 S. Pineapple Ave., said she thinks Rosemary would be a better location for the festival.
“It has gotten to be such a big event with so many people coming now, that it has outgrown Burns Court,” Swor said.
Swor was frustrated with the 10-day street closure in November and the wall murals that remained after the festival is over.
“They say the theme was circus, and we have an evil Mickey Mouse riding a mechanical swan,” Swor said about the mural on the Herald Square building at 530 S. Orange Ave. The mural, by Pixel Pancho, is called “Stork.”
At the same time, some residents and eventgoers have voiced support for a festival that brings in so many people and artists to downtown.
Kowal said she would consider moving the annual street-art festival if the city repaved Lemon Avenue, from Fruitville Road to 10th Street. The newly paved asphalt would create a better canvas for the street art, Kowal said.
In the city’s current budget, Lemon Avenue is slated for resurfacing in August 2014, which would be just in time for the festival, if it moved.
“If it gets repaved, it’s not off the table,” Kowal said in an interview with the Sarasota Observer last Thursday.
Kowal said she would rather try to keep the Chalk Festival in the downtown core where people can park and walk along Main Street or Pineapple Avenue. But in an April 25 email to City Commissioner Paul Caragiulo, Kowal wrote that organizers were interested in holding the festival on Lemon Avenue, from Fruitville Road to 10th Street, and that they had spoken with some businesses in Rosemary.
“They are excited about the possibility,” Kowal wrote to the commissioner.
Kowal said the street closures will be limited to six days for the 2013 Chalk Festival, scheduled for Nov. 13 to Nov. 18, because of less 3-D art, which takes more time to set up.
The 10-day chalk festival street closure this year was the impetus behind the newly created Burns Court Neighborhood Association (BCNA) formed to give merchants a voice about issues that come before City Hall.
Marnie Matarese, real-estate broker,with J Wood Realty in Burns Square and secretary of BCNA, said the six-day closure planned for November is still too long.
“If she wants to continue with it being six days, I believe many merchants would say go ahead and move it,” Matarese said.
Kowal said organizers have been focused on elevating the annual event to the best international pavement art festival, and supporters would be upset if it had to be moved from Burns Square.
“The festival is embraced by 99.99% of the community,” Kowal said.
One of those residents is Lisa Silvestri, a travel agent has donated her time to work with the Chalk Festival staff in arranging travel for many of the artists and some visitors.
“I cannot imagine the festival taking place anywhere but the Burns Court area of the city,” Silvestri wrote to commissioners May 6. “The ambience, central location, parking and shops make this location perfect for the city, county and visitors to come together.”
Supporter Kafi Benz said the festival brings a large economic impact to the city, noting that Sarasota County’s annual economic impact report showed a photo from the Chalk Festival on the third page.
According to Kowal, the estimated total economic impact of the Chalk Festival in 2011 was $9 million.
Despite the shorter festival, dozens have spoken out against the multiple-day street closure at recent City Commission meetings. Opponents of the longer festival say two or three days should be the maximum duration for a street closure in Burns Square.
At the May 6 meeting, city commissioners directed city staff to draft new rules for event organizers holding city events that would require a street closure more than two days’ in duration. (See below.)
Mariana Cotton, a resident of Burns Court, sent an email April 30 to city commissioners: “These inconsiderate, noisy and destructive people roam through our property leaving a wake of trash … No event that stops normal life needs to be more than three days.”
Kowal said the multiple-day street closures are needed to give artists time and space to create more in-depth artwork, including 3-D art.
Partial Fee waiver
During their Monday, May 6 regular meeting, commissioners approved a limited fee waiver for this year’s Sarasota Chalk Festival, to be held Nov. 13 to Nov. 18. Commissioner Shannon Snyder made the motion to approve a grant waiver in the amount of $2,780 — the same amount the city waived for last year’s 10-day event. Chalk Festival organizers had requested an additional waiver fee of $4,488 to $10,342 to cover the cost of city police services. The commission did not approve the additional waiver.
City commissioners also directed city staff to draft new rules for event organizers holding events in the city that would require a street closure longer than two days. One possibility is to have such events go through a public City Commission-approval process six months before the event.
“The sponsor would be required to have a community meeting prior to coming to the City Commission,” Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown said of the prospective new rules for longer events.