The Downtown Improvement District hopes to recapture the excitement following the 2011 installation of tree lighting at Five Points Park while avoiding the problems that shut off those lights for good in June.
The DID board is considering two different systems that would place four upward-facing LED lights on the 26 trees in Five Points Park. The installation of a new system could come just three years after the DID, along with the city and Selby Foundation, spent $81,000 to place lights on the branches of those same trees.
Those lights are still up, but the DID turned them off in June. DID Operations Manager John Moran said issues arose due to tree growth and animal interference. With potential annual maintenance costs rising to more than $20,000, according to city Chief Planner Steve Stancel, the group decided to cut its losses.
At the same time, DID put out a request for proposals for a new lighting system. The winning submission came from Candela Controls, a lighting specialist out of Winter Park. The project would have four color-changing LED lights strapped to the base of the trees, 10 feet off the ground, projecting upward at the canopy. The DID is also considering the same system with static white lights.
The concern of the DID, now, is cost. The proposed systems would cost about $136,000 for color-changing lights, and $91,000 for white lights. Between maintenance and the warranty, additional costs would total $22,800 over the next five years, after which the warranty would expire. The DID is interested in bringing the city, nearby condos and the opera on board to contribute financially, but it balked at paying for the system alone.
“I don’t see the value of spending $91,000 or $135,000 for new lights,” DID board member Tom Mannausa said. “I see a value of removing from the trees all the existing lighting and wiring.”
On Tuesday, the DID board voted to spend $1,200 to bring a demonstration of two color-changing and two white lights to the park, possibly in early December. The DID will invite stakeholder groups to view these lighting systems and gauge their interest in contributing to them.
By that time, oak trees along Main Street will also be outfitted with stringed lights as a result of a $14,000 Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association project. The DID was interested in following up with the merchant group’s vendor, but the RFP issued in June asked for a longer warranty than the one attached to the Main Street project. Still, less expensive options remain under consideration going forward.
Ron Rayevich, president of the Plaza at Five Points, likes the idea of lighting Five Points Park. He said he loved the original lighting, and wasn’t sure why that system wasn’t repaired. He’s more concerned about the proposed replacement — particularly the effect upward-facing lights might have if something goes wrong.
“If the lights go askew, they shine on the sides of the building,” Rayevich. “I’m a little concerned that it might light up my living room all night long.”
Given the current state of the park, though, Rayevich said there would be an upside to adding any type of new lighting. He said he thought there was a potential for the proposed system to work out well.
“I think people are far less inclined to go over there at night and use it, and we’ve had a problem in the park with homelessness,” Rayevich said.
Tony Souza, chairman of the Downtown Sarasota Alliance, lives adjacent to the park at 100 Central Ave. He thought that lights were a good idea in theory, but questioned whether any system would justify such a significant expense.
“If I were on the DID, before I made the final decision, I would take a real close look at the long-term costs of this and how long it will last,” Souza said. “It’s a costly item.”
Both Rayevich and Souza said they didn’t know whether condo members would be interested in contributing to the project financially, though Rayevich said park lighting only directly affected the units that actually faced the park.
Moran acknowledged the sticker shock would be a hard obstacle to overcome. Given how the last system turned out, he said, it might be necessary to spend that money to ensure a longer-lasting project.
“I’m a little worried that this board is going to retreat from relighting the park,” Moran said. “We spent $81,000 the last go round, so this is substantially more — but we got a year out of the last one before running into trouble.”
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