St. Armands Circle merchants are still stewing over a woman’s right to solicit donations around the Circle and fear it’s going to lead to more solicitors coming to the popular shopping destination spot at the height of season.
At the St. Armands Circle Business Improvement District (BID) meeting Tuesday at Sarasota City Hall, St. Armands Circle Executive Director Diana Corrigan expressed concern and frustration that the woman is now setting up card tables and coolers in front of businesses that are closed on the weekends.
“She’s setting in front of Edward Jones in front of the elevator to gain a more visible spot because she knows when it’s closed,” Corrigan said. “She’s using private property to solicit donations.”
In January, BID board members conveyed they have a problem with the woman’s daily solicitation efforts because merchants who pay $1,500 a month or more to lease Circle space receive a fine from the city if they make a homemade sign or solicit business directly outside their shops.
When merchants asked the woman to move away from their businesses entrances in January, Corrigan said, the woman told merchants she has a permit.
While it was discovered that the woman doesn’t have a permit, city staff and the Sarasota Police Department reported in February the woman wasn’t breaking any laws or violating any codes.
Corrigan and other BID board members, though, are seeking more guidance on the issue and requested that City Manager Tom Barwin and City Attorney Robert Fournier attend next month’s BID meeting to discuss the issue further.
“Merchants and shoppers are uncomfortable walking past her because she’s aggressive,” Corrigan said. “We have spent millions upgrading the Circle and I fear her presence is going to spur others to come solicit on the Circle.”
Corrigan said she doesn’t have a problem with the woman passing out literature about her cause on the Circle, noting she has a First Amendment right to be there.
“But it’s turned into a squatter’s rights situation,” Corrigan said. “She’s been given an inch and now she’s taking a yard by taking over prime storefront property if a business is closed.”
City staff urged board members to report her presence on private property to police because that constitutes a code violation.
In the meantime, BID Chairman Marty Rappaport said the BID will take the issue to the Sarasota City Commission if it doesn’t get a satisfactory response from Barwin and Fournier.
“This issue can seriously affect the quality and integrity of the Circle,” Rappaport said.
Rappaport takes a step back
St. Armands Circle Business Improvement District Chairman Marty Rappaport, the leading organizer of the BID and its chairman for its 11 years in existence, asked board members for a sabbatical as chairman Tuesday for family health reasons.
A motion was made and supported to elect Gavin Meshad as chairman and allow Rappaport to become the BID’s vice chairman and treasurer. Michael Valentino will take over as BID treasurer.
“When I make a commitment, I make a commitment and don’t miss meetings,” Rappaport said. “But the present situation is taking a lot of my time and won’t allow me to run every meeting. I need a sabbatical as chairman until the situation resolves itself.”
Under Rappaport’s leadership, the BID, which just received another 10-year extension, has funded a dozen projects and helped to create more than $2.5 million worth of Circle improvements.
“We appreciate everything you have done,” Meshad said. “Your dedication has been amazing.”