It’s almost dizzying when you think about all that has been transpiring and contemplated for the heart of downtown Sarasota.
• The on-off, in-out carousel ride with parking meters on Main Street.
• The construction of a roundabout at Five Points on Main.
• The seemingly interminable (and poorly timed) construction of roundabouts on Ringling Boulevard at Palm and Pineapple avenues.
• The Palm Avenue parking garage (and whether to charge or keep it free).
• Proposals for a hotel next to the Palm Avenue garage.
• The repaving of Fruitville Road from U.S. 301 to Tamiami Trail.
• When to build and how much should be spent on the parking garage on the State Street parking lot.
• New streetscaping for Main Street from Gulfstream Avenue to Orange Avenue with brick sidewalks, bulb-outs and parallel parking spaces.
• Streetscaping for First Street between Pineapple and Tamiami Trail and along North Palm.
• A roundabout at Main and Orange.
• And to some extent, you can include the new lift station at Osprey and Mound (another seemingly interminable project).
That’s a lot.
And from the glass-half-full point of view, perhaps all of this can be viewed as modernizing progress that is upgrading and making downtown Sarasota more vibrant. Indeed, when all of these projects are completed, residents, downtown business owners and visitors may well be pleased with the transformations and think all of the grief endured was worth it.
Of course, that’s hard to imagine now, if, say, your business or condominium is at or near the intersections of Ringling and Pineapple and Ringling and Palm. The glass could look more than half empty.
In fact, there is another perspective to all of these downtown projects as you add up the list: What is the end game? What is the overall strategy? What is the master plan?
We hesitate even to bring up the concept of a master plan, largely because of what it suggests — central planning from a central government. Yet it also makes sense that all of the pieces downtown need to fit and work toward the same objective.
That objective, of course, is to create an aesthetically attractive, vibrant and easily accessible shopping, dining and entertainment destination. And, perhaps all of these projects are intended toward that end.
Nonetheless, some of the randomness of these projects brings to mind once again what Dr. Phil Kotler, the pre-eminent marketing expert from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, advised for Sarasota at an Argus Foundation luncheon recently: Sarasota needs a brand and a distinguishing architectural landmark that helps convey that brand.
Kotler suggested that Sarasota would be wise to model its downtown in look and feel to be more European.
Create an overall strategy, he said.
With that sage advice in mind, and knowing what projects are pending and planned, it is worth broaching again the idea that was accepted for downtown in the early 1960s but never completed. The indefatigable city of Sarasota advocate, Gil Waters, says this is the prime opportunity to close off from cars Main Street from Gulfstream to Orange at certain hours of each day to create a European walkable plaza — lined on Main with retail shops, restaurants, outdoor dining, sidewalk music and kiosks of retail goods similar to those in the malls.
This would fill and justify the parking garages. More important, it would help create that brand; draw more and better merchants; spur storefront redevelopment; generate more tax revenues for the city; and add to our quality of life.