A group of businesses, located between U.S. 301 and Links Avenue, is working together to shine a light on the eastern edge of downtown.
Representatives of four businesses — Eat Here, Evie’s Tavern, Main Street Graphics and McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre — have committed to participating in the group, born out of a series of informal meetings between the owners. The group, concentrated between Fruitville Road and Ringling Boulevard, has tentatively named itself the East End District.
Michael Evanoff, owner of Evie’s, said it made sense for the businesses to come together to help each other. As the western end of Main Street has thrived, he said, people have failed to keep up with what’s available on the other side of downtown. As a group, the founding members of the East End District believe they can fix that problem.
“We all have a vested interest in this area and in seeing it grow,” Evanoff said.
Les McCurdy is the owner of McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre, set to open at 1923 Ringling Blvd. around May.
He’s already taken an active role in seeing the area thrive, and was elected the East End District’s president at a meeting Tuesday. McCurdy said they hoped to establish the area as an entertainment destination for residents and tourists.
“We’re all just trying to come together and put a solid identity on this end of Main Street,” McCurdy said. “We want people to understand what’s down here.”
Sean Murphy, owner of Eat Here, said businesses on the eastern end of downtown have had to overcome some structural challenges. He said storefronts are often set back from the street, and without prominent signage, people are often unaware of what is in the area. Murphy said the group would focus on joint advertising to begin with; they also discussed the potential installation of maps and directories to guide pedestrians.
“It’s difficult to grab people’s attention,” Murphy said. “If we’re all working together on it, it should be easier.”
McCurdy said the group’s goal was not just to promote a small segment of downtown. He expressed an interest in working with groups concentrated on the other end of Main Street — such as the Downtown Improvement District and the Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association — to form a unified urban core.
“We all want to make the whole downtown area more cohesive,” McCurdy said.
One potential unification effort the group discussed was the creation of a downtown circulator, such as a trolley. Downtown Economic Coordinator Norm Gollub said people often look at downtown like a barbell, with two major activity hubs at each end and not much in between. The group is determined to find a way to overcome the less-active segments, and the circulator is the most popular solution.
“That would be huge for this area, as far as bringing it all together,” McCurdy said.
Following a $2,000 donation from downtown developer Mark Kauffman, the group formally organized as a nonprofit on Tuesday, and will meet biweekly going forward. Its members hope to talk with more nearby businesses and other downtown stakeholders in the near future. It has not yet discussed sources of funding.
Though just four members strong, the members of the East End District are confident that their efforts will be popular with people throughout the city.
“Everybody wants what we’re talking about to happen,” McCurdy said. “That’s how we’re really going to pull everything together.”
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