City officials, business leaders and downtown advocates hope a new downtown economic steward will help keep businesses on Main Street as The Mall at University Town Center begins to attract shops and restaurants.
The mega mall broke ground Monday, Oct. 15.
Part of the job description for Sarasota’s new downtown economic development coordinator will be to try to keep businesses from moving out east.
“We envision the EDC as an advocate for downtown,” said Sarasota Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown.
The new economic coordinator will also be responsible for implementing strategies to increase the number of businesses and jobs downtown, bring market-rate apartments for working professionals and oversee an effort to add a pharmacy downtown.
Thus far, 66 resumes have been received for the position.
“It’s a full mix (of candidates) — local, regional and national and even one from Manchester, England,” said Steve Queior, president / CEO of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce.
The city of Sarasota, the Sarasota Chamber and the Downtown Improvement District (DID) are reviewing candidates for the position; they expect to have the position filled by mid-November.
Costs associated with the position are funded by three organizations — with the city contributing $40,000; the DID contributing $25,000; and the chamber’s “Sarasota Tomorrow” fund contributing $25,000. The chamber will provide an office and administrative supplies for the new economic coordinator.
As of Oct. 8, only a dozen candidates had applied for the position. Because of increased advertising, that number increased by five-fold over the past two weeks.
The salary range for the position is $50,000 to $60,000, with benefits.
Randy Welker was the city’s first downtown EDC coordinator. He resigned in June for family reasons.
“Randy Welker got a lot of things started,” Queior said.
One project Welker worked on was a study comparing downtown Sarasota’s economic climate to West Palm Beach, St. Petersburg and Naples. Although Sarasota fared well for its overall square footage of retail and restaurants and the number of employees working downtown, it had a lower number of downtown residents.
Queior said one thing the new economic development coordinator would study is ways to entice developers to build some apartments or condos — designed for both those who work downtown or retirees who want to live downtown.
“If we had more people living downtown, everything would be healthier,” Queior said.
Downtown advocate Ernie Ritz said one location for potential development that can give a boost to downtown is a parcel of city-owned land on Boulevard of the Arts in the Rosemary District. At an Oct. 18 city commission meeting, City Manager Tom Barwin said he sees the property as a “catalyst opportunity” for the area.
Ritz said that’s another project the new economic coordinator could focus on.
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