During an update on his activities, downtown Sarasota’s new economic-development coordinator, Randy Welker, warned against sending the message that the city is not accommodating to business.
“Every community says it’s business-friendly,” he said. “But (the public) looks at what you do.”
Welker cited a recent Planning Board decision to turn down a business’ request for a new sign as sending the wrong signal.
“Signage is important for every company,” he said. “We’re sending a message with everything we do. People are watching.”
Welker was hired in March and told commissioners he’s been busy trying to identify desired businesses downtown, such as a drug store, and recruit them to come to Sarasota.
“We are now trying to put together a retail analysis and find out what we are lacking and (how to) fill the gaps,” he said.
He’s come up with three tasks that Sarasota has to accomplish to be successful in kickstarting the economy.
• Generating sales tax;
• Absorbing space for office and other uses;
• Getting more people to invest their money in downtown, which he said is most critical.
“We’re competing against everyone in the state of Florida and in the Southeast,” said Welker.
Mayor Suzanne Atwell said she’s heard from citizens who believe that neighborhoods need to be strengthened before downtown is, because positive steps will move toward the center of town.
It’s a frequent argument from neighborhoods — that the city pays too much attention to downtown.
She wanted to know if Welker agreed with that belief.
He did not. He feels a vibrant city center spreads out from the core to the neighborhoods.
“Cities are critical. Downtowns are vital,” he said. “Our downtown core is going to continue to drive a lot of things that are going on in our city.”
For Welker, there’s one main outcome he is seeking.
“The goal is to assist in making this the best downtown in the country,” he said. “I think that’s a doable goal.”