Gregg Gamso lives in Alta Vista and walks downtown nearly every day for coffee. When he heard about a proposed downtown streetcar, he wondered about the price tag: How much will the project cost, who will pay for it and if a streetcar ever came to Sarasota, how much would the fare be?
But the idea of a streetcar — especially if federal or state funding can be secured — is an interesting one, Gamso said.
“The more I think about it, the more it seems like a cool concept,” Gamso said. “It might just work.”
Gamso, who does not drive, said he would utilize a streetcar that went to Payne Park, which is close to his home, and that it would be a draw for tourists, too. Gamso remembers a pleasant ride on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar when he visited New Orleans.
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The city is holding the workshop to present the results of a preliminary study and to collect community input on the possibility of a downtown circulator — whether it would be a rubber-tired circulator, such as a bus-type trolley, or a fixed-track streetcar.
The preliminary study, concluded by the planning firm Tindale-Oliver & Associates Inc. this week, mapped three potential routes for a streetcar.
“If the city were to move forward (with a streetcar) it would do a significantly more in-depth study on the alignments, to determine the first phase,” said Michael English, urban planner with Tindale-Oliver.
City officials could also blend portions of the three options to create a hybrid route, English said.
The three possible routes identified in the study include:
• A route that starts just north of Payne Park and moves west along Main Street, all the way across U.S. 41 to connect downtown to the bayfront-park area.
• Another potential route that runs from Laurel Park along Orange Avenue and north across Main Street, before looping through the Rosemary District and cultural destinations on the bayfront.
• A third option stretching from Selby Gardens north along Pineapple Avenue, crossing Fruitville Road, through the Rosemary District, before heading north to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
Historically, streetcars, such as the system in Tampa, have attracted redevelopment along the tracks. Expected economic impact was one reason why two of the proposed routes go straight through the Rosemary District, the north-of-Main-Street area that was poised for revitalization just before the recession hit.
But, the streetcars come at a cost.
Although a bus-type trolley would cost millions of dollars less, fixed-track streetcars often prove more popular. Because the streetcar networks are considered a long-term capital improvement, they can spur economic development along the corridor.
Either open-air or enclosed, air-conditioned streetcars are available, and some streetcar systems even use solar panels to reduce the amount of electricity needed to operate them.
Recent estimates for the first 1.5-mile phase of a streetcar in Sarasota range from around $15 million to $75 million.
City officials say that for the project to become a reality, federal funding is necessary.
A downtown circulator has been discussed since the 1980s, with urban planner Andres Duany in 2000 saying one was necessary to the city’s future if downtown were to embrace smart growth.
A bus with a trolley facade was tested several years ago, but it was hampered by growing headway times between stops as the bus’ route spread.
A streetcar would be much more reliable for residents and tourists downtown because it runs on a fixed track with specific stops every few blocks, said streetcar advocate Forrest Shaw.
But, most importantly, the economic impact of a streetcar project is the big reason why the city should consider the fixed-track alternative, Shaw said.
“People don’t understand it yet,” Shaw said of the streetcars. “And that’s the point of this meeting.”
IF YOU GO
The public meeting to discuss streetcars will be held Thursday, Nov. 15, in the Commission Chambers at City Hall, 1565 First St. Refreshments will be served at 5:30 p.m., followed by a presentation at 6 p.m.