Before offering to make a roughly $200,000 donation to the city of Sarasota, Ernie Kretzmer’s advocacy for roundabouts in Sarasota was largely limited to writing letters to the editor.
Even after ramping up his dedication to the cause by committing his own money to help fund a roundabout at Ringling Boulevard and Orange Avenue, Kretzmer shied away from taking a vocal role regarding the city’s plans for new roundabouts along U.S. 41 and throughout downtown.
Kretzmer did receive acknowledgement of his donation — the details of which are still being finalized — at an October City Commission meeting. However, the kudos came only after a citizen alerted the commission that Kretzmer was in attendance. For the 88-year-old Lido Key resident, that’s OK with him.
“I’ve always kind of been a silent proponent,” Kretzmer said. “I’m not a high-profile person — I don’t want to be.”
Kretzmer’s passion for roundabouts began a decade ago, following the completion of the John Ringling Causeway. Kretzmer was in favor of building the bridge, but its construction created a new challenge.
“I was a strong proponent of the beautiful bridge we have now,” Kretzmer said. “After that was finished, then I was disturbed about the choppy traffic flow that we have, jumping from one red light to the other.”
Around the same time, a proposal to install a series of roundabouts along U.S. 41 was in its nascent stages. Kretzmer heard pitches from consultants from towns that had installed roundabouts and from the city’s most prominent roundabout advocate, Rod Warner. Kretzmer was one of the first to support Warner’s efforts.
“He was prized by me early on, because early on there weren’t very many people speaking up and coming around to the idea and concept,” Warner said. “He holds a very warm and treasured space in my roundabout heart for having done that.”
Although he was in favor of the proposal, Kretzmer was far from front and center in the debate surrounding the installation of new roundabouts in Sarasota. His support manifested itself in the form of attending meetings and penning letters to the editor; Kretzmer says he’s got a thick stack of written arguments in favor of the roundabouts from the past 10 years.
“He’s kind of been in the background, but a really avid supporter all along,” Warner said.
That all changed, Kretzmer said, partially because he was dissatisfied with his own commute. Driving along Ringling Boulevard to the Babe Weiller Branch of the YMCA, he was frustrated with the traffic.
“That one light at the intersection of Ringling and Orange, in particular, had very poor traffic flow,” Kretzmer said. “I wanted to do something, and I thought, ‘This would be an opportunity to move the process forward faster.’”
That intersection happened to be targeted by the city for a future roundabout, but Florida Department of Transportation funding for the project was expected to come in no earlier than 2015-16. With Kretzmer’s donation, the roundabout’s design timeline was moved up to next year, with construction money slated to be available in 2016-17.
Although the roundabout is still a few years away, City Engineer Alex DavisShaw said the project was “put on the map” by Kretzmer’s contribution. Before the donation was made, any timeline was purely theoretical; DavisShaw said Kretzmer moved the completion date of the roundabout up five or six years.
“Basically, it took us from being a project in concept — it took an intersection that is not very pedestrian-friendly and could be improved for pedestrians and drivers — to being a planned project,” DavisShaw said.
Kretzmer’s support for roundabouts goes beyond just improving his own commute. Before retiring to Sarasota in the early ’80s, Kretzmer was an electric engineer for Bell Laboratories in New Jersey. He said he still brings that analytical perspective to his day-to-day life, and that roundabouts were particularly appealing to him as a result.
“I see things in a practical, results-oriented way,” Kretzmer said. “I just see these roundabouts as one way of improving living conditions.”
He’s also appreciative of the roundabouts on an aesthetic level. Kretzmer is passionate about the arts, with ornate paintings lining the walls and classical music playing through the halls of his home. Before making the donation to the city, Kretzmer said much of his philanthropic efforts had gone to arts organizations. In a way, the roundabouts appeal to that side of him, too.
“I believe it’s for everyone’s welfare.” Kretzmer said.
Ultimately, that last point is what motivated Kretzmer to make his donation.
“I like to do good things,” he said.
Spreading the Wealth
The city of Sarasota isn’t the only benefactor of Ernie Kretzmer’s philanthropy. Here are just a few of the organizations — many of which are arts-centric — that Kretzmer supported in 2013.
• Anna Maria Island Concert Chorus and Orchestra
• Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota
• Classical WSMR Member Services
• Florida Studio Theatre
• Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Sarasota-Manatee
• The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee
• Jewish Housing Council Foundation
• Perlman Music Program — Suncoast
• Salvation Army — Sarasota
• Sarasota Ballet of Florida
• Sarasota Orchestra
• Van Wezel Foundation
• YMCA Foundation of Sarasota
Contact David Conway at [email protected]