At the beginning of Tuesday’s Downtown Improvement District meeting, DID director John Moran envisioned a future in which the group, by expanding its boundaries, could undertake massive, multimillion-dollar projects.
That discussion made the stringent economic reality the DID is currently operating in even starker, as the group then demurred on committing $43,550 to the installation of a new tree lighting system at Five Points Park.
The proposal, which came from the Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association, was already a sizable price decrease from the color-change LED lighting system the DID paid to demonstrate in December. That option, which would have cost between $91,000 and $136,000, failed to receive enthusiastic support from local stakeholders. DID member Mark Kauffman said the price point made it unfeasible for the group to fund that system itself.
DID Chairman Ernie Ritz was the loudest objector to the newest proposed lighting system, which would use the same lights that were installed along the 1300, 1400 and 1500 blocks of Main Street in December. He balked at the cost, which was more than three times as expensive as the Main Street installation.
Ron Soto, president of the Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association and a DID board member, said the increased cost was due to the relatively larger size of the trees in the park. The Main Street trees were each outfitted with 1,000 lights; the proposal for the Five Points lighting would place 3,500 lights on each tree.
The DID agreed to pass on the current proposal, but said there was still an interest in a similar project if the merchant group could reduce the price. After the failure of the previous system, installed in 2010 and deactivated last summer, Moran said he believed the DID should be responsible for helping to find a replacement.
“I feel we have an obligation to do something,” Moran said. “I think we can proportionately trim this, to the point to where it'll still have the wow effect.”
The DID has been dealing with tighter budget constraints in the new fiscal year after committing future funds to last summer’s $1.9 million Main Street improvement project. An expanded DID — with boundaries potentially as large as the current downtown Community Redevelopment Area — could lead to as much as $1.3 million dollars in new revenue, but any action on that front is at least six months away, Moran said.
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