Where is Sarasota’s long-range revitalization plan?
In 2010, I moved back here from Chattanooga. During the 1990s, I witnessed Chattanooga’s “Shared Vision” among city and county governments, businesses and residents. They developed 2020 and 2030 revitalization plans.
Now, it is Sarasota’s turn. We must replace myopic nearsightedness with a meaningful consensus, a long-range vision.
Recent downtown improvement meetings demonstrate how nearsighted individuals, lacking vision, allow self-interest to supersede the community’s long-range well being. Why does Main Street’s city center create such fervor?
Look at the beautiful aesthetics of Little Five Points (Burns Court) or the opera house north of Five Points. How about bricked and curb-less Lemon Avenue, with bollards and landscaped beautification? Lemon bears a striking resemblance to the current downtown/Main Street City Center beautification plan, which many refuse to accept.
Instead, we bow to illogical fears of the minority, made up of merchants who rarely own the real estate they occupy. They also do not own the cherished parking spaces out front. Yet, their minority voices hold us prisoner, distracting us from the real need to develop a future for Sarasota as a world-class city.
Although old in years, a 1959 downtown plan that advocated a pedestrian-only Main Street and a walkover bridge to the bay remains contemporary today. On a larger scale, it symbolizes the recently proclaimed historical district. Why? Signage on Interstate 75 advertises Sarasota’s historical district.
Historical “what”? Main Street’s city center a historical district? Where is the history? In 50- and 60-year-old depreciated buildings greatly in need of revitalization or revival?
We are so caught up in fighting over parking/no parking, bricks/no bricks, curbed/no curbed and sidewalk width. Are we losing our minds or simply lost, because we fail to keep Sarasota’s heritage before us?
Sarasota’s historical district is better observed in Little Five Points, or what is aptly named Burns Court, after one of Sarasota’s early founders.
We must stop all the needless bickering. Instead, let us start to unite around a question: What is Sarasota’s unique heritage, one that allows us to call Sarasota a world-class city? Then, we can ask, Is it foundationally important to Sarasota’s future?
Once we determine that, we can develop a community-wide consensus, a vision that shapes our story for the next 100 years, a vision for a meaningful and well-planned future, pulling together all the priceless amenities we call Sarasota.
It is not hard for me to see a small part of the vision. I see Main Street’s city center as the heartbeat of this vision. There are bronzed statues of historical figures on each corner. Protruding from the bases, on four sides, will be touch screens. They audibly can tell the dramatic stories, connecting the figures with the time periods they lived in and their contributions to the city.
I see students coming to downtown on field trips. They will learn about their heritage and what it means to be a Sarasotan. I see residents strolling Main Street, reinforcing their pride, knowing how special it is to live in a world-class city with cultural and waterfront resources few communities can boast of having. I see thousands and thousands of year-round tourists from all over the world, flocking to Main Street and other parts of downtown, spending their money, amazed at what Sarasota offers. Many will decide this is where they want to live.
That is not a complete vision for revitalizing Sarasota, just a beginning.
It is time we all work together and develop a long-range vision, a vision on which Sarasotans can agree — Sarasota’s vision!
It is great to want to beautify and improve Main Street’s city center. It is far better to develop an extensive vision for Sarasota, determining what downtown will look like, how it will be beautified and what improvements will be made. More important, this speaks to the future Sarasota our children will inherit.
Without a long-term vision or revitalization plan, Sarasota is destined to continue its decline into obscurity. We continue to rest on the laurels of the past 100 years, taking for granted the blessings people such as John Ringling left us. One day, those laurels might just fly south forever — or, north, to Ellenton, like the Ringling Brothers Circus that once called Sarasota home.
Let’s stand together and create SRQ2100, Sarasota’s vision for the rest of this century. I can see it! Can you? More important, will you join me in developing the vision for our future? Shall we take this exciting journey together?
Chris Waters was raised in Sarasota. He has 35 years of professional experience in entrepreneurship, real-estate development, business consulting and long-range strategic planning. He was the executive director of community performing-arts and educational organizations. He is president of Lakewood Ranch-based Coaching, Counseling and Consulting.
What’s your view about or vision for downtown Sarasota? Should lower Main Street be converted to pedestrian-only use? Should the sidewalks be widened at the expense of parking spaces? Should the meters be removed?
Send your comments to [email protected] or 1970 Main St., Sarasota, 34236.