Planner Andres Duany came to Sarasota in 2000 with one goal in mind: to try to make Sarasota a vibrant, walkable downtown.
In 2000, Duany, who many consider the father of new urbanism, and his team of planners spent 10 days in Sarasota working on a blueprint that became an ambitious list of more than 40 separate projects. That blueprint eventually became the city’s Downtown Master Plan.
And, according to operations manager of the Downtown Improvement District John Moran, when Duany returns June 18 and 19 to speak about Sarasota’s future, he will likely speak about some of those same issues he addressed in 2000. Some of them include walkable streets; connecting downtown to the bayfront; and encouraging redevelopment in close-to-downtown districts.
Some of the projects have been accomplished; others gave way to a lack of funding or political support. Still others remain in the planning phase.
Those who know Duany know that when he returns, he won’t mince words.
Attracting, and retaining, younger residents
During Duany’s Sarasota visit next week, he will speak about the importance of Sarasota becoming an attractive city to young people.
“The greatest danger for Sarasota is for it to be bypassed by the younger generation,” Duany said.
The planner will be speaking at a dinner event June 18, and at a joint meeting of the Sarasota City and Sarasota County commissioners at 1:30 p.m., Wednesday, June 19, at the Sarasota County Administration building, 1660 Ringling Blvd.
Duany said cities need “constant new blood,” and places such as Mobile, Ala., and Miami are good examples of cities attracting young people through job creation. Mobile, Ala., recently brought in aircraft manufacturer Airbus, which created a 1,000 jobs two miles from the city’s downtown.
“Imagine Sarasota County trying to get an Airbus factory,” Duany said. “There would be environmental studies for the next decade.
“It is hard to get things done in Sarasota,” said Duany.
Duany said local graduates of the Sarasota’s three colleges should be able to stay in Sarasota, find good work and get involved in city life.
“(Entrepreneurs) should be building affordable housing,” Duany said. “(Sarasota) needs to lighten up and let the young do things.”
âœ“ Downtown grocer
One of Duany’s biggest priorities was to bring in a downtown grocery to accommodate the growing residential population; serve as an anchor for a revitalized downtown; and promote the walkable, new urbanism Sarasota sought to embrace. With the high cost of downtown real estate, Whole Foods eventually partnered with the city to build its market on city property and opened in December 2004.
“The market is the first thing you need to have in a downtown, and the hardest one to get,” Duany said during a June 7 interview with the Sarasota Observer.
âœ“ Lemon Avenue Mall
A bricked Lemon Avenue with wide sidewalks was another high priority project. Lemon Avenue was torn up and redone in 2004. A seashell fountain feature anchors the street and Lemon Avenue is filled with Farmer’s Market stands and market shoppers every Saturday.
“I call it Piazza Limone,” said downtown advocate Diana Hamilton, who attended all of the planning charettes when Duany was last in town. “It made it more hip.”
âœ“ Single-lane roundabouts
Duany listed several roundabouts on his priority list, including a pair at Ringling and Pineapple Avenues and Ringling and Palm Avenues. The goal was to make those intersections more pedestrian friendly. Two new roundabouts at those locations opened to pedestrians and traffic in June 2012.
âœ“ Parking garages
The Master Plan highlights three locations for parking garages. So far, the city has completed one on Palm Avenue, which opened in December 2010. The city is now in the planning phase for a second public mixed-use garage on State Street. Duany suggested the city purchase the parcel of land at the corner of Orange Avenue and Laurel Street for a third parking garage. Michael Saunders & Co. currently owns that property.
Duany wanted to see up to four stories of retail or residential liner uses at the bottom of any parking garage the city built. The Palm Avenue garage has only one floor of commercial space.
Missions not accomplished
âœ— Bayfront connectivity
Duany’s top priority was to connect downtown to the bayfront, said Dale Parks, a Sarasota architect who worked for the local firm that partnered with Duany to create the master plan in 2000.
Duany championed the concept of a roundabout at Gulfstream and U.S. 41. The project remains part of the city’s long-term plans for a string of 10 multi-lane roundabouts on the bayfront, but commissioners would like to see a pair of roundabouts farther north completed first before construction starts on the proposed circles at the busier intersections such as U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue.
âœ— Paid parking
Sarasota installed paid parking meters in April 2011 and yanked them out in March 2012.
In 2000, Duany told city officials that parking meters on Main Street was a necessity if Sarasota wanted “to grow up.”
“I hope it comes up,” Duany said about parking meters. Any renewed effort to put in meters has to be “on a block by block analysis,” Duany said.
âœ— Fruitville Road
Duany desired to connect downtown to the Rosemary District and Gillespie Park, just north of Fruitville Road. He suggested adding wide crosswalks and narrowing traffic lanes so people could cross into the Rosemary District. What has been done so far? “Zilch, nada, nothing,” noted Hamilton.
But during an April capital improvements meeting, commissioners discussed a concept to would narrow a downtown stretch of Fruitville Road from four lanes to two lanes.
âœ— Rosemary Neighborhood Square
Another 2000 proposal was to replace an aging storage facility with a public park in the heart of the Rosemary District.
“The city should offer to swap nearby city properties for this location,” reads the city’s Downtown Master Plan. The storage facility remains in that location.