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Sarasota Thu Oct 8, 2009 5 years ago

Pedestrian mall proposed

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by: Robin Roy City Editor

As he tells it, real-estate broker Ian Black has a dream — to see Sarasota reach its potential.

“The reason for the success Sarasota has had is it always has potential,” Black said. “(Developers) have been coming here for years, because they see that potential. But that potential is never realized.”

Black cites projects such as Bayside on the former Quay property and the Proscenium as two examples of that unrealized potential.

Black has teamed up with Sarasota architect Robert Vecchione for an idea he believes will change that.
They pitched their idea to the Downtown Improvement District (DID) last week.

“Sarasota has only been playing lip service to Duany’s plan, which called for walkable streets,” said Black, referring to urban planner Andres Duany, who authored the city’s master plan.

Black and Vecchione are proposing a downtown pedestrian mall that will fit the master plan and create what Black calls “a sense of place.”

“A sense of place is the raison d’être for downtown,” said Black. “It’s there to draw people. We have temporary senses of place when there are special events, but there’s no permanent one.”

His examples of a sense of place are, locally, St. Armands Circle or Lincoln Avenue, in Miami — locations that are bustling with people.

Black and Vecchione believe a downtown pedestrian mall may create that same buzz.

“We want to create a rationale to come downtown,” Black said.

They are proposing holding a competition for design professionals to submit their most creative plans for a mall. The two are hesitant to provide any thoughts on what it could look like, because they say they don’t want to influence the designers.

“We don’t want to put any restrictions on the entries,” said Black.

But, in general, it could be situated somewhere between Five Points and the bayfront. The pedestrian mall could be permanent, or it could only shut down Main Street on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.

When the entries are received, the top ones would be put on display in a downtown office space, so residents can view the plans.

“I think there would be tremendous response,” Vecchione said. “Architects are always looking for opportunities to get their work seen.”

Black and Vecchione asked the DID to sponsor the competition, which may include paying for the development of a Web site to advertise and collect the entries, the office space to put them on display and marketing the competition.

“The $50,000 the DID is already spending on marketing downtown,” said Black, “you use just $5,000 for the competition, and you’ll get a bigger return on the investment.”

Reaction from the DID board was mixed.

“I don’t see any negatives to getting ideas,” said board Chairman Larry Fineberg.

But board member Andrew Foley said he didn’t want to see the city enter into something unless it was ready to follow through with the idea.

“We’re great at dreaming in this city,” he said. “We need to stop spinning our wheels and go forward.”

The board did not commit to supporting the pedestrian mall competition, but it is still under consideration.

That’s enough to keep Black’s dream alive — for now.

“When I came here 27 years ago and saw the bayfront, I saw the potential,” Black said. “But I’m still waiting for Sarasota to realize it.”

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