This could be a good year for the city of Sarasota.
That’s one of the conclusions to take away from this week’s page-one report by City Editor Robin Roy on the nine declared candidates for three Sarasota City Commission seats. The reason:
Four of the candidates — businessman Richard Dorfman; business owner Paul Caragiulo; retired sheriff’s deputy Shannon Snyder; and city activist Diana Hamilton — embrace the idea that one of the foremost priorities (actually, it’s the top priority) for the City Commission is creating a climate that attracts and fosters economic and job growth.
Wow, what a turnaround that would be from the commission majority that has done almost zilch on the city’s economy the past two years. In terms of the city’s economic future, consider it a positive step that Mayor Kelly Kirschner and Commissioner Fredd Atkins are not running for re-election. If candidate Caragiulo beats incumbent Vice Mayor Dick Clapp, we’d have a trifecta, almost a clean sweep of the representatives of economic stagnancy that has marked the commission.
The way we read them, at least Dorfman, Caragiulo, Snyder and Hamilton see the city’s precarious picture. With fallen property values and virtually no way to expand geographically, pressure continues to mount on the city’s ability to hold off from raising residential property taxes to meet the city’s financial obligations. Simply put, the city needs growth.
It needs the Quay property redeveloped to expand the commercial and residential tax base. It needs Westfield Southgate mall to add a second-story of stores to expand the tax base. It needs a parking garage at St. Armands Circle to accommodate more shoppers, whose purchases would add to the tax base. It needs the downtown property developed on north Fruitville Road between Lemon and Central Avenues to add to the tax base. It needs more hotels, businesses, jobs, retailers and residents in the downtown core to add to the tax base. And it needs the North Trail redeveloped to add to the tax base.
Little of this will happen, though, unless there is an overall climate in the city — at City Hall, to be exact — that gives businesses and developers the confidence and concrete evidence that the city of Sarasota is a better place to do business than it is in other communities.
Think Gov. Rick Scott. Reverse the obstructionist regulatory climate. Cut taxes (and government in general). Look for ways to allow and expedite redevelopment and new development (i.e. allow more than two 18-story buildings downtown and allow for more taller buildings on Main Street and other parts of downtown). Market and promote the city; tell the world the city of Sarasota welcomes and is open for business.
This would be a refreshing agenda for a city that already has so much to offer and hasn’t had the leadership lately to capitalize on its strengths.
As they say in Tallahassee, let’s get to work!