Welcome Back: Summer Recap

 

Welcome Back: Summer Recap

 

Date: November 12, 2009
by: The Observer Staff

 
 

Summer is officially over, but the stories that made headlines from May through October certainly heated up the months that some residents were away.

While you were gone, some organizations combined forces, and, of course, city-and-county commission stories continued to fill the news pages.

Although we bid adieu to several area shops and restaurants, many of the empty storefront spaces have been filled. Downtown Sarasota welcomed at least 10 new hotspots to the block that offer dining, shopping and entertainment.

Read on for top headlines of summer in this “Welcome Back” section (pages 7 to 12), along with the most bizarre Cops Corner items we could find.

Season, which will provide residents with even more stories, no doubt, has officially begun.

MAY
+ Company’s oldest Publix to move locations
When the Publix store at Ringling Boulevard and Lime Avenue closes its doors next year, it will also be closing the door on a large part of the supermarket company’s history.

Publix store No. 0029 in the Ringling Shopping Center is the oldest operating store in the entire chain; it opened March 29, 1955. But, the 31,490-square-foot store will be replaced by a new 54,000-square-foot Publix in the former Herald-Tribune building at U.S. 41 and Wood Street.

Store manager John Kendall says some of his regular customers were upset when they heard the store will be closing for good, but he believes most of them will go to the new location, because most of the employees will be moving there.

Melany Summerall has been working at the Ringling Publix for 34 years.

“I love it,” Summerall says. “I love the (customers). I’ve grown up with them.”

+ Five Points Park limitations denied
The city’s Parks, Recreation and Environmental Protection Advisory Board denied a request to toughen rules that police say could help fight crime in Five Points Park.

The Five Points Neighborhood Association had asked the board to consider earlier closing hours, a smoking ban and tighter limits on permitting.

The board denied the request to change the closing hours to 11 p.m. and the permit limit to 25 people. It did recommend creating designated smoking areas on the sidewalk.

+ Transient crime plummets in Sarasota
Get-tough policies against transient crime have contributed to a 49% decline in incidents in the first quarter of 2009 compared to 2008.

Statistics from Jan. 1 to March 31 showed transient arrests in Sarasota dropped 73%.

Lt. Jeff Karr credits a year-old policy that calls for officers to make arrests or issue summonses every time a transient breaks a law. They no longer issue warnings for things such as an open container or use of fowl language.

+ Police eye citywide surveillance system
The Sarasota Police Department plans to install a high-tech surveillance system to monitor city streets and parks and wants businesses and homeowners associations to share in the cost.

“It’s not choppy video you’d see at a convenience store,” said Lt. Jeff Karr, who has been researching the system. “It’s high resolution from as far away as a half mile.”

Sarasota police would install the infrastructure for the wireless Internet-based system, and Karr hopes private businesses and citizens would supply the cameras. Top-of-the-line cameras for the system cost about $5,000, but Karr said less-expensive cameras would be sufficient in many areas around the city. The best cameras have night vision and can zoom, tilt and pan 360 degrees.

JUNE
+ Surtax revenue comes up $253 million short
 Not one penny has been collected yet from the second extension of the voter-approved 1% sales tax, and already the county is estimating its collection projection is $253 million in the hole.

The shortage is due to two factors: current economic conditions and interest on bonds for fast-tracked projects.

The county attributes a shortfall of $168 million to reduced consumer spending. And, because it created bonds to begin projects, such as the Honore Avenue extension and Fruitville Road improvements, before the surtax was collected, the county created a further shortfall of $85 million.

+ Atkins accuses county of neglecting Newtown
During a joint meeting between city- and- county commissioners June 4, Mayor Dick Clapp asked the county to help fund the Newtown Community Reinvestment Agency.

When County Commissioner Carolyn Mason, whose district includes Newtown, said she supported the city’s request, but questioned if the time was right because of the economy, City Commissioner Fredd Atkins said it was time the county did something for a part of Sarasota that it has ignored for years.

“The county can look at this and say, ‘You know, we can stimulate the economy of the city of Sarasota and Sarasota County by investing in the community that has been the most neglected by Sarasota County throughout the years,’” Atkins said.

County Commissioner Shannon Staub said the county has allocated about $29 million to Newtown through various programs, but Atkins said that money is coming too late.

+ Boat parade struggles with funding again
The organizers of the Suncoast Offshore Grand Prix are struggling with the city over funding again this year.

The city informed event volunteer Bruce Franklin last week that it would not pay the $6,500 for a police presence at the July 2 boat parade.

“It’s incomprehensible that they would do this just weeks before the parade,” Franklin said.

Organizers and volunteers have raised more than $130,000 to pay for the weeklong event, including the hiring of private security. But private security guards are not permitted to direct traffic surrounding the Main Street parade route, which is why police are required.

Franklin said he submitted the permits in February and called to check every few weeks to see if there were any problems, and none was raised. That’s why he said he was surprised to get a call about the public-safety money.

JULY
+ Police union demands more officers
The head of the Southwest Florida Police Benevolent Association, Mick McHale, held a protest July 1, in front of City Hall, to call for more police officers or City Manager Bob Bartolotta’s job. McHale was joined by about 60 current and retired Sarasota police officers.

There currently are 176 officers at the Sarasota Police Department. McHale said that is equivalent to 1987 staffing levels, and, as a result, officers’ lives are at risk and citizen safety is being compromised.

“We are undermanned and under siege,” he said. “There are fewer officers to respond in times of need. Response time is down.”

Bartolotta did not speak directly to the demand, because negotiations on a new PBA contract with the city are expected to begin soon. The union’s contract expires in September.

“The PBA has smart professionals,” Bartolotta said. “I’m sure once we get to the negotiating table, we’ll be able to come to an agreement.”


+ City mulls implementing bayfront test roundabout
At the direction of two city commissioners, city engineers and transportation staff will begin looking at redirection funding from Ringling Boulevard roundabouts to a roundabout at U.S. 41 and 10th Street.

Vice Mayor Kelly Kirschner and Commissioner Terry Turner introduced the possibility of a “test” roundabout at U.S. 41 and 10th Street during a June 16 meeting on the bayfront connectivity plan. They called it a “test” roundabout, because the intent would be to see how drivers react to bayfront roundabouts.

“Instead of designing several things for three years, how about designing and building one at 10th Street,” said Kirschner. “Tenth Street is an important gateway, and it could get traffic off U.S. 41.”

+ SEC: Morgans ‘boast’ about hiding in Europe
The Sarasota couple accused of running a $14 million Ponzi scheme have allegedly ignored a judge’s order to stop running their investments.

The evidence against them — an e-mail Marian Morgan sent to investors within the last week, in which she claims she and her husband, John, are still working with their company, Morgan European Holdings. The SEC claims in its court filing she also boasted that the couple is out of the reach of American authorities, as are the funds invested with them.

“We high-tailed it out of Tampa and flew back overnight to Europe, so that we could focus on getting the Morgan European Holdings stuff done, once and for all, and not have it hanging over our heads,” she wrote. “They cannot serve us in Europe. They do not have an attorney to serve in the USA. Please don’t be worried about your funds. They are completely out of the USA jurisdiction.”

Judge Richard Lazzara ordered the Morgans to return to his Tampa courtroom the next week or a warrant for their immediate arrest will be issued. The court order said they will have to explain why they should not be held in contempt of court.

The SEC said the Morgans also failed comply with a judge’s order to file accountings of investors’ funds and have not shifted assets held in offshore accounts into the United States.

The Morgans were arrested Aug. 14 in Sri Lanka.

+ City increases fees, eliminates positions
Despite a $9 million shortfall in revenue, the city unveiled plans for a balanced budget for 2010 with no layoffs. But to achieve that, a series of deep cuts will be required, including one that City Manager Bob Bartolotta warned city commissioners was likely to generate a negative response.

Bartolotta is suggesting the city charge a fee for special-event permits, which have historically been free.

“It will impact these events in a big way,” Bartolotta said. “This will be controversial.”

Last year, the city issued 358 special-event permits. Bartolotta said it took 668 days of staff time to process those event permits, which equates to more than $220,000 in man hours.

Currently, the city has only charged event organizers for police protection and trash pickup, but Bartolotta is recommending the City Commission adopt a set of fees that would recover half of the cost it absorbs to process event permits.

Bartolotta is also proposing an across-the-board wage freeze that will save $1.8 million. A total of 30 vacant and retiring positions within 13 different departments would be eliminated to save $700,000. None of those positions are in the police department.

+ Downtown merchants desire streetcar system
Pastry Art owner Forrest Shaw foresees a day when streetcars carry tourists to their favorite stores to shop and dine or allow residents to leave their cars at home and ride to their downtown offices.

“A streetcar would bring people downtown for the novelty of riding it,” Shaw said. “It would also make downtown more attractive to live in.”

Shaw, together with Brian Andersen, owner of Mozaic, are lobbying city and county commissioners to apply for a TIGER grant to build an electric streetcar system on Main Street, from School Avenue to Marina Jack.

TIGER stands for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery. In May, the federal government announced that it was making available $1.5 billion in TIGER grants to put toward transportation projects. Each state is eligible for $300 million.

Shaw thinks a piece of that money will serve as a stimulus to revitalize downtown Sarasota.
“It doesn’t seem that there’s a broad vision in Sarasota,” he said. “(A streetcar system) would help the entire community and would put us on the map.”

AUGUST
+ Sarasota News and Books closes in August
The imminent closure of Sarasota News and Books led downtown merchants to hold a rally Aug. 22 in Five Points Park, designed to support local shops and restaurants.

“Everybody is so riled up over Sarasota News and Books,” said Wendy Getchell, president of the Downtown Sarasota Merchants Association and owner of Lotus.

In the face of flagging book sales, Foley had been altering his business plan. With the blessing of his landlord, Foley had architectural drawings made that increased the size of his café and shrunk the area with books, magazines and greeting cards.

For two weeks, Foley had been trying to negotiate lower lease terms to help him cope with the faltering economy. He was paying more than $12,000 a month for his Main Street space.

The landlord, Randall Bono, was willing to reduce that to $9,875 per month, which equates to $25 per square foot, but Foley said that was not low enough to allow him to stay in business.

Bookstore owner Andrew Foley said Aug. 31 would be the store’s last day.

+ Residents fight to keep Siesta Drive post office
More than two-dozen Southgate residents and business owners crowded the Siesta Drive post office Aug. 21, waiting to hear word about the possible closure of their postal branch.

“This post office is so convenient for us,” said Southgate resident Joan Atchley. “I love the location.”

The U.S. Postal Service has put the Southgate branch, which employs 24 people and has been in operation for more than 30 years, on a list of more than 600 post offices nationwide that are at risk of closure in a cost-cutting tactic. It’s the only location in Sarasota on the list.

Greg Jackson, Sarasota’s postmaster, said the primary reason Southgate is at risk is because it leases, not owns, its space, and the Postal Service is looking to shed its leases.

Rep. Vern Buchanan met with Jackson and U.S. Postal Service officials at the Southgate branch last week to try to keep the post office open.

“I never realized the impact a post office has on a community,” said Buchanan. “It’s huge.”

SEPTEMBER
+ Victory for veteran
World War II veteran Jack Curran probably thought his days on the battle lines were over when he retired from the military.

But the 88-year-old Sarasota resident had one heck of a fight on his hands when he proposed in May to buy the controversial “Unconditional Surrender” sculpture for $500,000 and donate it to the city, with one caveat — it had to stay on the bayfront for at least 10 years.

That stipulation pitted some members of the arts community, which saw the sculpture as kitsch, against veterans groups and their supporters.

At its Sept. 8 meeting, the City Commission conditionally approved accepting Curran’s donation.

+ Vendors now in control of farmers market
Downtown Farmers Market vendors have wrested control of the market away from the Downtown Partnership and will have the opportunity to run the market themselves.

The City Commission unanimously approved a request Tuesday from the 55 vendors to put them in charge of perhaps the biggest downtown attraction.

“The vendors are not only more qualified to run the market, we’ve been doing so,” said vendor Greg Roy, who led the charge for independence.

The Downtown Partnership has been running the market since 2002.

OCTOBER
+ Merged merchants group picks its new name
Two newly merged merchants associations have chosen a new name they feel better represents their identity and mission.

The Downtown Merchants Association and Palm Avenue Merchants Association will now be known as the Downtown Sarasota Alliance, with the tagline: “One voice uniting businesses and residents.”

“It really speaks to what our mission is and what we want to accomplish,” said Wendy Getchell, president of the Downtown Sarasota Alliance.

The group made a concerted effort to strike the word “merchant” from its identity, because it had pigeon-holed them into one category. Some city commissioners and board members of the Downtown Improvement District (DID) believed the merchants associations only had the interests of the merchants in mind.

The merger was originally intended to be a three-way deal between the two merchant groups and the Downtown Partnership, but the merchant groups felt negotiations with the Partnership were going nowhere, so they broke off talks last month.
 

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