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Sarasota Thursday, Apr. 23, 2015 2 years ago

Fruitville Road: Bridging the Gap

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The city has prioritized a street improvement effort along Fruitville Road to improve the walkability between downtown and the Rosemary District.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

Hoping to tame the imposing nature of Fruitville Road for pedestrians, the city and downtown leaders teamed up to improve connections between the heart of the city and its neighbors to the north.

Capitalizing on the growing popularity of new urbanist principles in the city, those involved were intent on making Fruitville Road more inviting. By slowing cars and adding more pedestrian amenities, the barrier the street creates was set to be eradicated.

That was a decade ago, real estate broker and former Downtown Partnership chairman Ian Black said. Despite the ambitious plans, the same challenges remain on Fruitville between U.S. 301 and U.S. 41 today.

“As with a lot of things, a lot of study was done, and nothing happened,” Black said.

The desire to address those challenges also remains. At the April 6 meeting of the Community Redevelopment Agency, the group agreed to reorganize its priorities at the urging of the Community Redevelopment Agency Advisory Board. Plans to redesign the streetscape of Fruitville Road moved to the top of the list, a decision spurred by the growth of the Rosemary District.

“We feel strongly this is an item we should be paying attention to over the next year,” said CRA Advisory Board Chairman Michael Beaumier. “With the large number of projects going on in the Rosemary District, the ability to be able to create connectivity on Fruitville and make it pedestrian friendly is of critical importance.”

The city is in the process of selecting a consultant to produce a concept plan for the project. In the request for proposals provided to interested firms, staff writes that the city hopes to transform the character of Fruitville Road from a suburban thoroughfare to an urban boulevard.

To achieve that transformation, the study suggests a number of changes. The city hopes to slow the roadway without decreasing the current level of service. Other revisions could include the addition of parallel parking, the narrowing of existing lanes, the installation of more landscaping and the widening of sidewalks.

According to city Senior Planner Steve Stancel, a consultant should be selected within 30 days. Over the next six months, the consultant will work with the community to develop a sense of what people want to see changed along the Fruitville corridor — at which point design and engineering can begin in earnest.

“We’re going into the study without any preconceived ideas, and we’re going to be having lots of public participation events,” Stancel said. “What we hope to do with this is to build a consensus for a concept.”

Black, a leading advocate for the revitalization of the Rosemary District, is hopeful that the changes he helped identify a decade ago will be implemented in the near future. He’d also like to see another, more philosophical change: renaming this segment of Fruitville to “Third Street.”

That was the street’s original name when it was just a two-lane road. In the late ‘80s, the city expanded the street to alleviate traffic, and the road became a thoroughfare to bypass downtown. By changing the name, Black believes part of the natural barrier associated with “Fruitville” will be eliminated. 

“Fruitville has this sense of, like, ‘beneath the Mississippi,’” Black said. “You’ve got to take the ‘Mississippi’ away for people to get comfortable.”

As in the past, funding the improvements remains a challenge. With the CRA set to expire in 2016, city money that would have been earmarked for improvements in the area may be harder to come by. Still, that’s why the CRA board agreed to prioritize the planning and design for the project now — so that the first step will be out of the way.

“Hopefully the CRA will continue in some form and we can chip off pieces, or we’ll have to find funding elsewhere,” Stancel said. “Either way, the plan will be in place.”

“Fruitville has this sense of, like, ‘beneath the Mississippi.’ You've got to take the ‘Mississippi’ away for people to get comfortable.”

– Ian Black, Real estate broker

 

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