LAKEWOOD RANCH — A new board of directors is casting a new vision for San Marco Plaza, an Italian-inspired piazza tucked away off Nature’s Way in Lakewood Ranch.
Since their first board meeting in March, business owners Anthony Vento, Kevin Neurer and Carmen Spagnola have been working to be more accessible to other merchants, clean up the plaza, sort through financial records and develop a strategy to make the plaza a local shopping destination — all things they say were neglected by prior management.
“There wasn’t a lot of attention being paid to (the plaza by the previous board),” said Vento, the chairman. “This is our life and livelihood. We have a great stake in making sure this plaza is successful.”
The trio called for an election for the board of directors for the San Marco Plaza Association in December after the previous board said no election was needed, Spagnola said. Later forcing a written ballot, the men received unanimous approval from fellow merchants to take control of the association.
Changes began almost immediately.
In the first three months alone, the board has trimmed about $40,000 from its annual budget with virtually no impact to the plaza.
For example, a computerized system to control the lights at the plaza was never programmed, leaving parking lot and other lights on at unnecessary hours. Just utilizing the light system reduced monthly light bills from about $2,700 to just $950 last month.
The new board also reduced garbage pickup expenses by 30% —$15,000 a year — by reducing garbage pick up for three Dumpsters to twice a week.
“It’s been a long, hard road just getting us to the point it should have been,” Spagnola said. “Being on the board here is managing a business. Nobody was watching anything.”
Besides keeping an eye on finances, the new board members are eager to help businesses in the plaza.
“We’ll talk to owners and find out problems they are having and talk to people to see how we can get something done,” Neurer said.
That proactive mentality is weaving into current and future endeavors a well.
Neurer recently fixed the electrical system that controls the ringing of the bells at the towers, and the team is working on incorporating environmentally friendly lighting in the parking lot. It also hopes to make changes to landscaping to offer visitors more areas to sit outside and eat, among other projects, Spagnola said.
Although the plaza has about 400 parking spaces, the layout of the center leads visitors to believe that parking is minimal with only a few dozen spots in front of businesses. Board members have been in discussions with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch about the creation of a third entrance to the plaza from Town Center Parkway, which would give the plaza improved visibility and more accessibility.
They also have been discussing options for improving signage for the plaza, which they say also will help increase foot traffic, Spagnola said.
Board members hope an expansion of the plaza’s Italian Festival, which debuted last year, also will help attract new visitors. Neurer said the board plans to build booths that could be supplied to vendors for future festivities and special events as well.
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