The Downtown Improvement District Board of Directors bowed to merchants’ concerns Tuesday, approving a Main Street project recommendation that limits parallel parking and forgoes bricking the street or its sidewalks.
Now comes the hard part: getting the city to pay for more than three-quarters of a $4.6 million project.
The City Commission is expected to review the project recommendation during one of its regular meetings in February.
DID board member Dr. Mark Kauffmann made the motion Jan. 10 to approve a Main Street streetscape project that calls for improvements along four segments of Main Street from Bayfront Drive to U.S. 301.
Those improvements include enhanced landscaping, irrigation and bulbouts; new streetlights; and enhanced crosswalks with brick accents.
The only modification to Main Street the DID recommends is a change to parallel parking on the north side of that street, but just from Bayfront Drive to the Five Points roundabout. The move would permit wider sidewalks in an area where some restaurant owners support it.
However, that proposal has drawn fire from store merchants on the street, including Ron Soto of Soto’s Optical. Owners and manager of other stores — including a nearby jewelry store and hair salon —say they don’t believe their elderly clientele will continue to patronize their businesses once parallel parking is implemented.
What the DID will present to the Sarasota City Commission for its review next month is a project that will cost approximately $4.6 million and take six to eight months to complete.
The DID board is willing to provide approximately $1.52 million, or about 40% of the project’s cost, within Main Street DID boundaries.
Kauffmann told the DID board he would prefer submitting the full scope of the project to the commission, noting the city and the DID could agree to prioritize the project in segments, starting at Bayfront Drive and working west to U.S. 301.
“I don’t think it’s fair for the city to not put some money toward the DID district here,” Kauffmann said. “We shouldn’t be the ultimate payers here.”
While the rest of the DID board members agreed, they indicated they realized the city never would agree to pick up the cost of the whole project, because Chief Planner Steve Stancel had warned earlier that the city didn’t have sufficient funds for it.
Although Stancel noted the city has approximately $2.9 million it can use from its Community Redevelopment Agency revitalization fund, he explained there’s no way the city will use all of those dollars on Main Street.
“The money has to be spread out around the city,” Stancel said. “It’s not as simple as asking (the commissioners) to kick in $2.9 million.”
Stancel suggested the DID board consider submitting a project recommendation that included the work from Bayfront Drive to the Five Points roundabout ($1.3 million), with enhanced pedestrian lighting and landscape bulbouts for the rest of Main Street.
“Then you (resolve) immediate lighting and landscaping concerns, and the rest of the project can come later,” Stancel said.
But the DID board chose instead to submit Kauffmann’s recommendation and see how the commission responds.
“We can always come back and come up with a different project,” said DID Chair Ernie Ritz.
The DID could leverage $150,000 of the funds it receives through a special tax on property owners, to create a $2 million capital improvement project whose cost it could pay back over 20 years.
No matter what the City Commission approves, the merchants’ feedback was successful in persuading the DID to pull back from its original, $14 million plan for a brick street and sidewalk project. The merchants had made it known that that plan would have created serious disruptions — and loss of revenue — for their businesses.
During a special meeting last week, more than 50 merchants came prepared to make their concerns known, and at least half of them stepped to the podium to tell city officials they wanted nothing to do with a project that included brick streets and parallel parking.
The original goal was to brick the area from Bayfront Drive to Orange Avenue, to delineate the historic district.
Merchants, though, said historic streetlamps, enhanced lighting and trimmed trees would go a long way toward enhancing that district.
It would have cost the DID $2.9 million alone to perform the brick work in the historic district, convert angled parking to parallel parking and refurbish utilities under the road from Bayfront Drive to the Five Points roundabout. That scope of work was estimated to take nine months to complete.
Lotus clothing store boutique owner Wendy Getchell summed up her feelings about the brick concept last week: “If I wanted to run a shop in Disney World, I’d be in Disney World.”
She added, “This is Sarasota and it’s doing pretty well as it is today.”
• Retain angled parking
• Enhance landscaping with additional, modified bulbouts
• Add new LED lighting from the bayfront to Orange Avenue and modify lighting as needed elsewhere.
• Repair, replace or clean sidewalks as needed
• Create brick crosswalks and place limited brick accents on sidewalks
• Enhance gateways at both ends of the project