A unanimous City Commission vote Tuesday night cleared one big hurdle for wirewalker Nik Wallenda, who wants to highwire “skywalk” across U.S. 41 without a safety harness.
Commissioners voted unanimously to issue an expedited events permit to Wallenda.
City Manager Tom Barwin had recommended that the permit be issued with three stipulations, including one requirement that the performer wear a safety harness to protect against conditions, such as high wind or birds, that Wallenda and his team would not be able to predict.
Commissioners, however, voted to allow Wallenda to cross the highway without a safety harness or tether of any kind.
Wallenda still needs to get approval from the Florida Department of Transportation because the event will cross, and close, the state highway.
The proposed walk, planned for Tuesday, Jan. 29, would be about 15 stories high across U.S. 41 from downtown to the bayfront near the Unconditional Surrender sculpture.
Wallenda said he trains in 90 mph winds and other adverse conditions to make sure he is ready for anything.
“We have trained very hard, and we try to make this as safe as possible,” Wallenda told commissioners.
Commissioner Shannon Snyder called the seventh generation member of the famous Flying Wallendas an “ambassador for the community.”
Snyder said Wallenda should be able to do the highwire walk without a tether.
Snyder saw Wallenda praying before the evening City Commission meeting.
“As far as your safety, we know your family is important to you,” Snyder said. “And I saw you pray across the hall. I know the good lord will not take a servant like that.”
Virginia Haley, President of Visit Sarasota County, estimated that Wallenda’s wirewalk next week might get an estimated 50 to 75 million “media impressions,” many of which will include photographs showing Sarasota’s bayfront in the background.
“Some people might say it is high-risk behavior,” Mayor Suzanne Atwell said to Wallenda, “but it is your family’s behavior. It is your calling.”
The event is slated for 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
In other items:
• Commissioners considered a leash law at Payne Park. In addition, Snyder suggested that the city use property on Ringling Boulevard as a dog park. City staff will look into fencing off the former police station property, and other nearby parcels, for use as a dog park.
• Commissioners heard a presentation on a long-planned wayfinding project. The project would add hundreds of new signs throughout downtown and along the city’s major roadways, including U.S. 41 near Sarasota Bradenton International Airport and Fruitville Road.
Commissioners requested additional information from city staff.