Two downtown merchants have a growing idea for a specific part of the new State Street parking garage — or the roof, to be exact.
This concept is still a green idea, but Forrest Shaw, owner of Pastry Art, and John Anderson, co-owner of MoZaic, envision a concept that would offer a roof system with solar panels and maybe even a public parkspace where a smaller mid-week Sarasota Farmers Market could be held or outdoor movie nights could be hosted. Shaw has been talking to other merchants about the concept, and he plans to pitch it to city officials.
Merchants say the rooftop park would become a major draw for Sarasota.
“Imagine the nice breeze and the views,” Shaw said.
Shaw and Anderson note that there is a lack of space for outdoor events. Main Street’s Selby Five Points Park is surrounded by residential buildings and has become more of a passive park, Shaw said. And closing Main Street for events has drawbacks.
“What downtown is missing is a square or commons,” Shaw said.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Tre Michel, co-owner of State of the Arts Gallery across from the proposed parking garage. “I like the idea of greenspace and a park on the roof. I think that would draw interest as a unique attraction. It would be a magnet.”
“I think the concept sounds great,” said Phil Pagano, operations manager of the Sarasota Farmers Market, who had not heard of the concept before he was asked to comment Wednesday.
However, the Saturday Farmers Market does so well, in part, because it happens on the street, and it might be a challenge for all of the 85 vendors to get their produce and other items to the top deck, Pagano said.
“To bring the whole market up there, logistically it would be tough to do something like that,” Pagano said.
But Pagano said one possible option would be a smaller, abbreviated mid-week farmers market on the top of the parking garage during the busier winter months. The farmers market board would have to discuss any concepts before it could happen.
The rooftop park would provide a venue for other events and could resolve problems associated with outdoor events that close Main Street. When Main Street is closed and cars can’t park, some residents and tourists are dissuaded from coming downtown, said Anderson. Events held at a rooftop park setting would eliminate the need to close Main Street.
“It would be an attraction and revenue generator,” Anderson said. “It could be used year-round.”
Anderson envisions a wall of impact glass around the top deck of the garage, instead of a concrete wall.
City Manager Tom Barwin wants to hear more about the merchants’ concept for solar panels.
Barwin was manager of the Village of Oak Park, Ill., in 2011 when the village built a parking garage with 95 kilowatts worth of solar panels. Those panels were paid for in large part by a $565,000 state grant.
“On a sunny day, we would meter power back to the grid,” Barwin said.
Taking into account the state grant, the panels were expected to return the city’s investment in about 15 years, according to an article in the Chicago Sun-Times.
In 2010, the city reached an agreement with Pineapple Square, when it acquired the 43,700-square-foot lot on which the city is required to build at least a 300-space parking garage within four years. The city must have the garage built by February 2015. The city’s parking master plan in 2005 also identified the State Street lot as a priority designation for a garage. The site is currently home to a 139-parking-space lot.
The city will begin seeking proposals Oct. 1 from prospective firms for the designing and construction of the garage and commercial space. The city has set aside $7.29 million in tax-increment financing for the project.
City Commissioner Terry Turner said he would be open to considering the possibility of adding rooftop solar panels, if grants are available, but he doubts that designing park space and solar panels on the roof is feasible financially.
Turner, who had questioned the need for a garage, says the city needs to build one because of its contractual agreement with Pineapple Square. But Turner wants to see the city build the least-expensive structure possible at that location.
While current estimates put the cost of the proposed garage at the budgeted $7.29 million, Turner said a smaller garage with fewer parking spaces could be built for about $5 million.
Turner said he is skeptical that federal or state grants will be available for solar panels.
“Most of the grant money around the world for solar panels is drying up,” Turner said “There was a lot of that going around a few years ago.”