Pedestrian mall proposed


Pedestrian mall proposed


Date: October 8, 2009
by: Robin Roy | City Editor


As he tells it, real-estate broker Ian Black has a dream — to see Sarasota reach its potential.

“The reason for the success Sarasota has had is it always has potential,” Black said. “(Developers) have been coming here for years, because they see that potential. But that potential is never realized.”

Black cites projects such as Bayside on the former Quay property and the Proscenium as two examples of that unrealized potential.

Black has teamed up with Sarasota architect Robert Vecchione for an idea he believes will change that.
They pitched their idea to the Downtown Improvement District (DID) last week.

“Sarasota has only been playing lip service to Duany’s plan, which called for walkable streets,” said Black, referring to urban planner Andres Duany, who authored the city’s master plan.

Black and Vecchione are proposing a downtown pedestrian mall that will fit the master plan and create what Black calls “a sense of place.”

“A sense of place is the raison d’être for downtown,” said Black. “It’s there to draw people. We have temporary senses of place when there are special events, but there’s no permanent one.”

His examples of a sense of place are, locally, St. Armands Circle or Lincoln Avenue, in Miami — locations that are bustling with people.

Black and Vecchione believe a downtown pedestrian mall may create that same buzz.

“We want to create a rationale to come downtown,” Black said.

They are proposing holding a competition for design professionals to submit their most creative plans for a mall. The two are hesitant to provide any thoughts on what it could look like, because they say they don’t want to influence the designers.

“We don’t want to put any restrictions on the entries,” said Black.

But, in general, it could be situated somewhere between Five Points and the bayfront. The pedestrian mall could be permanent, or it could only shut down Main Street on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.

When the entries are received, the top ones would be put on display in a downtown office space, so residents can view the plans.

“I think there would be tremendous response,” Vecchione said. “Architects are always looking for opportunities to get their work seen.”

Black and Vecchione asked the DID to sponsor the competition, which may include paying for the development of a Web site to advertise and collect the entries, the office space to put them on display and marketing the competition.

“The $50,000 the DID is already spending on marketing downtown,” said Black, “you use just $5,000 for the competition, and you’ll get a bigger return on the investment.”

Reaction from the DID board was mixed.

“I don’t see any negatives to getting ideas,” said board Chairman Larry Fineberg.

But board member Andrew Foley said he didn’t want to see the city enter into something unless it was ready to follow through with the idea.

“We’re great at dreaming in this city,” he said. “We need to stop spinning our wheels and go forward.”

The board did not commit to supporting the pedestrian mall competition, but it is still under consideration.

That’s enough to keep Black’s dream alive — for now.

“When I came here 27 years ago and saw the bayfront, I saw the potential,” Black said. “But I’m still waiting for Sarasota to realize it.”

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Currently 2 Responses

  • 1.
  • The bayfront does indeed have potential. The biggest mistake would be to think that you could make Main Street into an "enclosed mall" by closing the street to car traffic. Chicago made that mistake by closing down State Street to car traffic a couple of decades ago and the businesses died. Some twenty years later and many hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue, the street was opened up again. Business success immediately. Learn a lesson. Do the right thing. The lesson is don't do anything stupid. People love the open air. I often drive Main Street on Sunday to scope out any changes. Most people will not walk its length. Cutting short car traffic would be just plain stupid.
  • Milan Adrian
    Sun 11th Oct 2009
    at 7:36pm
  • 2.
  • Thank you for this splendid reportage by your City Editor Robin ROY "Pedestrian Mall Proposed" . More kudos to Ian Black and Robert Vecchione for their initiative.
    When I moved to Sarasota from Colorado, home of Boulder's world-famous pedestrian mall - I moved here on account of Sarasota's many artistic gems and cultural attractions. I had the feeling that our "sense of space" -, with our magnificent beaches already in place, was just around the corner.

    In Colorado I was intimately involved with financing the individual property owners along the proposed Pedestrian Mall, as director of the largest mortgage company in the Rocky Mountain region.
    Enormous opposition had to be overcome. The merchants and property owners along the blocks to be converted from vehicular traffic to pedestrian strolls were virtually unanimous in their opposition. All feared serious business interruption the construction would entail.

    The leaders at Boulder's City Hall were fearless and persisted.
    Imaginative signage minimized business interruption.

    And as soon as the first two city blocks were converted and business started to boom, opposition among those affected on the additional city blocks was greatly diminished.
    Now that the Boulder Pedestrian Mall is a sensational success, everybody loves it ! The same old story.
    When I returned to Boulder recently [to be with my daughter on her 25th birthday] I don't remember seeing a single "For Sale" sign or vacancy along the Pedestrian Mall! {How many are sadly proliferating on our own Main Street nowadays?]
    There is virtually NO RECESSION in Boulder, Colorado, thanks partly to the thousands of people thronging - and shopping! - along the beautifully landscaped pedestrian mall!.
    I feel Ian's pain about Sarasota failing to reach its huge potential. I am trying to do something about my beloved Sarasota reaching its full potential- create a world-class art museum in downtown Sarasota. [Friends have warned me: I'm attempting to climb Mount Everest.]

    One of my first suggestions: make the first pedestrian mall block in Sarasota - the one running from Main Street on Palm Avenue along the City's new Garage Complex, [near the proposed new art museum site].
    It would entail little or no additional cost .
    And it could arise PRONTO - open for business by the end of next year!
    And anyway - why on earth have unsightly street parking along an unexciting building with many hundreds of parking spaces?!
    My expectation is that when folks can "see with their own eyes" the business and visual success of that first pedestrian mall block, the property owners and businesses along Main Street from 301 down to 41 would see the light and enthusiastically support Sarasota's pedestrian mall! That would be a fine beginning for Sarasota to reach its beautiful potential .

    Recently I examined a photograph of Main Street as it looked some 100 years ago - Main Street lined on both sides with horseless carriages, parked aslant, to allow maximum "horse and buggy age" parking.
    Is in not time for Sarasota to find its sense of place, as we are about to enter the second decade of the 21st Century ?

    Douglass Montrose-Graem
    Founder/Director The Turner Museum and Thomas Moran Galleries
    [Editor please note: my affiliation and website I give you permission to publish]

  • DOUGLASS Montrose-Graem
    Sun 11th Oct 2009
    at 3:19pm
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