There’s growing discontent among city officials, board members of the Downtown Improvement District and downtown merchants over a proposed Main Street project and the construction disruptions it’s expected to create.
The simmering discontent is scheduled to come to a head in February, when the Sarasota City Commission will review the project proposed by the DID.
During a special Downtown Improvement District Board of Directors meeting Jan. 3, at City Hall, merchants expressed displeasure with any project that includes parallel parking and brick streets.
The original proposal called for bricking both Main Street and the sidewalks from Bayfront Drive to Orange Avenue in the historic district, along with converting angled parking to parallel parking.
It would cost the DID and taxpayers approximately $2.9 million to convert the angled parking to parallel parking and refurbish utilities underneath the road from Bayfront Drive to the Five Points roundabout.
That expense includes $650,000 to brick the street through that segment of downtown.
After hearing that that part of the project could start in May 2013 and that it would take at least nine months to complete, merchants attending the meeting groaned.
James Derheim, owner of European Focus on Main Street, said he was disgusted with the proposal.
“We are in survival mode right now,” Derheim said. “This project would put us into a death spiral. Please don’t do it right now.”
It would cost approximately $4 million to brick the street from the Five Points roundabout to Orange Avenue.
Undertaking the work on Main Street from Orange Avenue to Osprey Avenue — a segment that would not be bricked but which would see more aesthetic improvements, such as landscape bulbouts — would cost approximately $3.5 million.
The enhancements on Main Street from Osprey Avenue to U.S. 301 would cost approximately $3.5 million.
Additionally, a planned roundabout at Main Street and Orange Avenue has been estimated at $1.9 million.
DID Chairman Ernie Ritz pointed out that the figures were preliminary estimates and that the DID has the option of eliminating parts of the plan.
Ritz and other DID board member have made it known they are listening to the merchants’ concerns and that they will make a final recommendation during their Jan. 10 meeting; that decision will be presented to the City Commission.
“The merchants don’t want the bricking of street, and they don’t want parallel parking,” said Ritz, who also suggested the existing sidewalks could be coated with a new material instead of being replaced with brick walkways.
In the meantime, Ron Soto, owner of Soto’s Optical at 1383 Main St., has started a petition against the project. He said he has the support of more than 70% of the businesses in the historic district, which runs from Orange Avenue to Palm Avenue.
Soto and other business owners said the planned State Street garage needs to be built before the city even considers the streetscape project.
Ritz has expressed some frustration with the merchants’ concern.
“We started going down this road in April 2010 and have had numerous public workshops with hundreds of people allowed to provide their input,” Ritz said. “The construction aspect is a legitimate concern, and we will try to minimize that as much as possible, but sometimes it’s the price we must pay for progress.”
Main Street improvement suggestions
The following suggestions have been offered for renovating Main Street and defining its historic district:
• Wider, bricked sidewalks
• Brick streets in the historic district
• Historic street lamps
• Parallel parking (replacing the angled parking would create wider sidewalks and reduce the number of parking spaces)
• More green space and trees
• More extended bulbouts
• More crosswalks defined by bricks
• Consistent storefront awnings
• A pedestrian mall on the street
• Main Street gateway arches
• Wayfinding signs
• More public art
• Enhanced lighting