A bricked lower Main Street closed to traffic, on certain days, has long been discussed.
Tuesday, Oct. 30, the possibility rolled ahead — slightly — with initial support from a downtown board and potential start-up funding on the table from a grassroots group.
Sarasota Vision, led by former Sarasota mayor and mobility advocate Gil Waters, has collected $300,000 from private donors to be spent on downtown projects that would make Main Street more pedestrian friendly and walkable. Some of the money could be used to brick Main Street and install bollards, devices that can be used to close lower Main Street to traffic during events or on certain evenings, Waters said.
The Downtown Improvement District (DID) decided that it wanted to hear more about the proposal. Specifically, the board wants to see cost estimates to brick Main street and install bollards.
“If it is going to be $1 million, the DID doesn’t have that asset,” said DID board member Dr. Mark Kauffman. “If it is a couple hundred thousand dollars, we can talk about it.”
One construction option is to try to get the two projects completed as part of the upcoming Main Street sidewalk improvement project, slated to undergo construction this summer.
In an interview with the Sarasota Observer, Waters said that preliminary estimates put the cost of bricking Main Street, from Palm Avenue to Five Points, at about $800,000.
Bricking that part of Main Street would transform the first few blocks into a gateway entrance to downtown, said Waters.
The bollards would allow the city to close several blocks of lower Main Street on, say, a Friday night so that walkers can enjoy that part of downtown without having to worry about walking through traffic, Waters said.
There could be a stage on Main Street where Florida Studio Theatre or Asolo Rep Theatre could perform, Waters added.
Tony Souza, former president of the Downtown Partnership, urged DID board members to consider bricking Main Street, using Charleston, S.C., New Bedford, Mass., and Winter Park, Fla. as examples of how brick streets can enhance communities.
Souza showed images of Winter Park’s brick Park Avenue, and tried to dispel a long-held belief that bricking Main Street would cause businesses to close during a lengthy construction. That belief has led many merchants to oppose proposals to brick over Main Street.
“They never closed the street,” Souza said about the construction of the brick street in Winter Park. “They never completely closed the sidewalk. They never shut business down.”
That project was completed at night, as a “stealth team” worked at night to brick the central Florida’s town, Souza said.
Souza also showed historic photos from the 1920s that showed brick sections of streets and pavers on Lemon Avenue.