A Main Street streetscape project that has merchants worried about how construction will affect their businesses now is garnering concerns from City Manager Bob Bartolotta.
At Tuesday’s Downtown Improvement District Board of Directors meeting, Bartolotta expressed concern about the timing of a project that’s expected to cost millions of dollars.
Public workshops have been held since April 2010 to formulate a project that involves a Main Street renovation that stretches from Bayfront Drive to U.S. 301 and will highlight the street’s historic district.
Wider sidewalks and a smaller street with less parking (in the form of parallel parking spaces) have been proposed as ways to promote more pedestrian activity downtown. The historic district of Main Street, from Palm Avenue to Orange Avenue, will likely be replaced with a brick street.
At the meeting, Bartolotta suggested the DID should be prepared to make a recommendation to the Sarasota City Commission Tuesday, Jan. 17 about the future of the State Street parking garage, as well, and how it coincides with the Main Street project.
“Commissioners will want to know whether you think the garage should be built before or after the project begins,” Bartolotta said.
Bartolotta also warned that once the cost of the future project is announced at the DID’s Dec. 15 special meeting, backlash most likely will ensue.
“I suspect there will be some sticker shock,” Bartolotta said. “Cost alternatives and how this project is going to be implemented are critical pieces of information for the commissioners to review.”
Merchants who reside in the historic district of Main Street have made it known they think the project is at least two years too soon and will destroy their business.
Lotus fashion boutique owner Wendy Getchell also urged the DID to reconsider the project.
“We just really do need a break after going through a rough time the last few years,” Getchell said.
The project will be unveiled to the DID Dec. 15 and will include an implementation plan, preliminary costs and alternatives for each section of the project.
Although the majority of those polled voted in favor of wider sidewalks and parallel parking, even DID Chairman Ernie Ritz questioned the feasibility of some portions of the project.
“I can imagine the horrors of parallel parking and how that’s going to slow down traffic,” Ritz said. “And I don’t see any reason to tear up the sidewalks.”
The DID will discuss the project further at meetings planned for Dec. 15, Jan. 3 and Jan. 10, before the commission reviews the DID’s recommended project at its regular meeting scheduled for Jan. 17.