Ron Soto, owner of Soto’s Optics, doesn’t like what he sees when he walks into his store on lower Main Street.
The sidewalks there haven’t been cleaned in nearly a year because of problems with the city’s previous contractor. The sidewalks contain a buildup of chewing gum, food stains and shoe prints, but the lack of maintenance speaks volumes about downtown, Soto said.
“It’s the first impression anybody gets when they walk downtown,” Soto said.
But sparse sidewalk cleanings may soon be the exception, not the rule.
The Downtown Improvement District (DID), which funds downtown improvements, is set to vote Dec. 11 on a plan that would double its sidewalk cleaning budget from $2,400 to $5,200.
The district’s increase in funding will allow for additional sidewalk cleanings beyond what the city funds. The additional cleanings won’t just be pressure washing; a contractor will use a special tool to scrub the sidewalks and chemicals to remove gum residue.
“It’s more uniform,” Soto said of the thorough cleaning.
Soto said the last time the Main Street sidewalks were cleaned a pressure washer was used.
“I could see where the guy came and hit it with the wand, and the spots where he missed,” Soto said.
The city is already scheduled to clean Main Street and part of Lemon Avenue twice in the next year, and the increase in DID’s funding would mean two more sidewalk cleanings.
If DID board members approve the increase in funding, they will have to finalize a list of which sidewalks will be cleaned.
At a prior meeting, the downtown board had already decided to prioritize sidewalk cleaning of the high-pedestrian traffic areas. Those sidewalks include Main Street, from Gulfstream Avenue to Orange Avenue, and Lemon Avenue, from First Street to State Street.
“As soon as you get to Orange Avenue (on Main Street), you might say, ‘It’s pretty grimy,’” said John Moran, operations manager of the DID.
Other sidewalks on sections of downtown streets such as Palm Avenue, Pineapple Avenue, Central Avenue, Orange Avenue, State Street and First Street, will likely be cleaned twice a year, if the DID approves the funding increase.
Moran echoed Soto. He said the DID is focusing on the sidewalks because impressions matter, and to keep sidewalks looking clean is an important investment.
The first cleanings could happen in as early as two weeks.
Kimberly Bayard, store manager at Christian Science Reading Room, was sweeping the front of the store Wednesday morning. She had just finished painting over chips on the store’s front wall.
Bayard said she hadn’t given much thought to the cleanliness of sidewalks. But, as she looked at the sidewalk, she said she thinks it’s not a bad idea to clean the busier parts of Main Street quarterly.
“That might be reasonable,” Bayard said.
Ron Kennedy, co-owner of Kennedy Gallery & Studios and a member of the recently formed Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association, thinks even more cleanings might be necessary.
Walking down Main Street, he points to at least 20 gum stains outside Gator Club and the sidewalk stained black where Pineapple Avenue turns into Main Street. Kennedy attributes his scrutiny to his days as a U.S. Marine Corp private, scrubbing floors.
“It’s like at home,” Kennedy said. “People don’t want someone walking into their living room and seeing a trashy floor.”
He plans to attend the DID’s next meeting Tuesday, Dec. 11, when it will vote on the funding for sidewalk cleaning.