It’s a frequent dilemma: public works projects that harm businesses.
We saw it two years ago in Nokomis when the state’s widening of U.S. 41 crippled businesses, costing them untold amounts in lost sales. Some businesses were so devastated they shut down.
Similar effects are feared downtown on Palm Avenue and Main Street and around Five Points over the next several months, as the city begins construction on its new parking garage on Palm and the roundabout at Five Points.
Robert and Roberta Turoff, owners of the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre, are particularly worried. They reported last week their phone inquiries dropped 30% soon after stories began appearing in newspapers about the coming construction projects.
Their concern prompted the Turoffs to ask the Downtown Improvement District taxing authority for a $144,000 loan to help them through the construction period. The district’s board declined.
This is a perplexing issue.
Who, if anyone, has an obligation to assist or provide compensation when manmade disruptions such as public road projects or, say, the construction of a high-rise adversely affect businesses?
For natural disasters and disruptions, businesses can and do purchase business-interruption insurance. It’s costly, and in most instances, it wouldn’t make economic sense to carry such insurance as a safeguard against public works or condo-construction projects.
Nonetheless, losing business at the restaurants and retailers on lower Main Street between Pineapple and Palm Avenues and along the 1300 block of N. Palm Avenue is real. The latter is expected to be closed for a month.
Should they be compensated?
That would seem fair. Indeed, one of the fundamentals of private-property rights is that your neighbor has no right to harm you.
But once you entertain the idea of providing compensation because of construction, you enter the dangerous arena of subsidies — who gets them and how much? What a nightmare.
As one developer told us, there is also this: If, say, the city provides a financial subsidy to the affected businesses, shouldn’t the city also share in the profits that result from the benefits of the public improvements?
For now, it appears Sarasota city officials and downtown organizations are being properly proactive. In addition to posting road signs marking parking and how to get to businesses, the city has posted extensive consumer information on its Web site (www.sarasotagov.com/InsideCityGovernment/Content/Downtown/downtownhp.html).
Meanwhile, the Downtown Improvement District will offer a valet-parking service for the affected areas, and it is considering a media campaign to encourage consumers to continue to shope and dine downtown during the construction.
Look at the summer projects as a time of need. We need our downtown businesses and want them to survive. During this period of difficulty, let’s show them our support.
April Fools' Aliens
If you were fooled by our April Fools’ spoofs last week, check out this story from last week’s London Telegraph:
The Al Ghad newspaper published a front-page article claiming a UFO landing near the desert town of Jafr.
The report said the aliens lit up the whole town, interrupted communications and sent fearful residents streaming into the streets.
Jafr’s mayor, Mohammed Mleihan, was fooled by the paper’s prank and sent security authorities in search of the aliens.
“Students didn’t go to school, their parents were frightened, and I almost evacuated the town’s 13,000 residents,” he said. “People were scared that aliens would attack them.”
A Jordanian security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said an emergency plan was almost enacted in Jafr.
Mleihan said he may sue the daily for its “big lie” but added that the paper had called to apologize for the inconvenience caused by the joke.
Al Ghad’s managing editor, Moussa Barhoumeh, tried to defuse the situation, saying the report has been “blown out of proportion.”
“We meant to entertain, not scare people,” he said.
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