The chairman of Sarasota’s Downtown Improvement District tried but was unsuccessful this week in reviving a merger of the downtown merchants and the Downtown Partnership. The merchants said they’re not interested.
After hearing that two downtown merchant groups ended merger talks with the Downtown Partnership last week, Larry Fineberg, chairman of the Downtown Improvement District (DID), was critical of the merchants’ decision.
“It sounds like you just gave up,” he told Wendy Getchell, president of the Downtown Merchants Association, at the Sept. 15 DID meeting.
Fineberg pressed Getchell for answers as to why the merger dissolved.
The two sides, the Downtown Merchants and Palm Avenue Merchants associations and the partnership, had been at odds over the makeup of the board of the combined organization, which was to be called the Downtown Association.
“We wanted a smaller board with more merchant representation,” said Getchell. “The partnership didn’t want that.”
The merchants were also concerned that the partnership had just lost control of the farmers market. The City Commission gave control to the market’s vendors Sept. 8.
Several merchants said they were disappointed that the partnership didn’t appear prepared at the commission meeting. The vendors had more than 50 people present representing their side, while the partnership had three, one of whom was Getchell.
About the merger, Getchell said the negotiations between the organizations weren’t going anywhere, and if the talks just went back-and-forth, as they had since May, the merchants would not have time to plan events for tourist season. So, the Downtown Merchants Association and the Palm Avenue Merchants Association decided to just merge their organizations.
Fineberg contended it was going to be difficult for the DID to support the combined merchants groups financially, because they didn’t include business people.
After Getchell left the Tuesday DID meeting due to a prior commitment, Fineberg pushed the merchants to renew merger talks with the partnership this Friday and to “come prepared to make an agreement.”
The Downtown Merchants Association had its regular meeting Wednesday morning, and Getchell said because she wasn’t at the DID meeting when Fineberg talked about the renewed merger talks, she wasn’t aware that Fineberg expected the two groups to walk out of the Friday meeting with a merger agreement.
“I wasn’t aware of the scope of the meeting,” she said. “I’m going to tell him I’m not going.”
Getchell said even if she wanted to agree to a merger, she couldn’t do it without her board’s consent, and the business owners at the Wednesday meeting were not in favor of renewing merger discussions.
The merchants also took exception to Fineberg’s statement that the DID would not be able to provide the merchants with funding, because “a lot of our constituents are business people, not merchants.”
“We are business people, too,” Getchell said.
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