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Our View


Date: October 17, 2013
by: Observer Staff


“(Robert) Marbut said Sarasota residents must get beyond the instinct to be NIMBYs — people who, upon hearing about a potential shelter, respond “not in my backyard.”

“The cities that get stuck in NIMBYism don’t move forward,” Marbut said.
Sarasota Observer
Oct. 10

Get beyond the instinct to be NIMBYs about a homeless shelter in your neighborhood?
Is he serious? Easy for him to say.

To begin with, NIMBY is Sarasota’s middle name.

But with all due respect, Robert Marbut, the city and county’s homeless consultant, lives in a fogged-up bubble if he thinks anyone would not object to having a city- or county-owned homeless shelter next door.

It’s like asking whether you would mind if the county opened its jail next door, or perhaps the county landfill. We know it’s not politically correct to sound so callous, but the truth is no one wants to sacrifice the value of his property — for which he toiled to earn — to such a facility. You can’t help but think of the detrimental effects when you know the likely outcome, when you see what occurs on Central Avenue near the Salvation Army Center on Central and 10th Street in Sarasota.

So we’re not going to scorn Vice Mayor Willie Shaw or Commissioner Susan Chapman — with whom we seldom agree — for voicing opposition to the placement of a homeless shelter in north Sarasota or downtown Sarasota.

So where should one go?

Back up. Why should taxpayers fund the construction and ongoing operations of a homeless shelter to begin with?

We shudder to imagine all of the future negative, bizarre and disappointing news stories that would proliferate if taxpayers became the owners of a homeless shelter and turned over its operations to the city and/or county government. Doesn’t the Sheriff’s Department have enough trouble operating the county jail?

Or, how about this: Think Warm Mineral Springs. How is that working out, North Port? How is that working out, Sarasota County? Or, hey, city commissioners, how is the parking-garage development and management business going?

The point is, governments always get in trouble when they take on jobs and businesses they shouldn’t. Indeed, city and county governments are no more equipped to operate a homeless shelter than we are.
Leave it to the experts — the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities, to name two.

As a matter of fact, let’s talk about the Salvation Army center.

We hesitate to be so blunt, but while the center provides needed services, it also is the single biggest contributor to downtown Sarasota’s vagrancy and transients’ issues. It’s also accurate to say that center has stunted and stopped the redevelopment and economic flourishing of the Rosemary District. Were it not for Sarasota entrepreneur Harvey Vengroff, who built an affordable apartment-office building and kick-started the physical growth of the Sarasota School of Arts and Sciences, as well as the private, charitable funding of the Planned Parenthood complex, the Rosemary District would be a total blight. All because of the Salavation Army’s clients, who we all know, routinely wander back and forth from downtown to the center.

So here’s a wild suggestion: If Mr. Marbut and the city and county commissioners are so eager to fund and build a homeless shelter, how about a land and asset swap?

Consider: Sarasota County government is the largest landowner in the county, thanks to the millions of dollars taxpayers have contributed over the past decade to the purchase of so-called environmentally sensitve lands. So put some of that rural, out-of-the-way land to use.

1) Trade a large swath of that land for the Salvation Army’s downtown property and facility. Or, lease a large swath for, say, $1 a year to the army.

2) Sell the the Salvation Army’s 10th Street land and building to a private buyer.

3) Use the proceeds from the sale to create and develop on that rural land site a homeless Shangri-La, complete with a one-stop-shop campus of health, mental and social services. Something akin to the Glasser-Schoenbaum Human Services Center. As Pinellas County Sheriff Sgt. Zach Haisch, overseer of that county’s homeless shelter, told Sarasota city and county officials: “The location doesn’t matter. If you build it, they will come.”

Voila! The problem, the dilemma is shifted somewhere else — but at least it would be shifted away from one of the city’s most important economic engines.

And if that idea isn’t embraced, then fall back on what we’ll predict will be the inevitable. Take a walk on Ringling Boulevard, just east of the Sarasota County Courthouse. You can’t help but notice that big empty lot where the Sarasota Police Department headquarters formerly sat.

Hey, perhaps the Salvation Army would do the land swap there. Talk about convenient. All of the necessary services would be right there — a shelter to house the homeless, a police station to keep order, a jail to lock up the criminal element and a courthouse to try them. And the land is already paid for.

There is just one problem: Payne Park is within close walking distance. Oh my, we can see it now. The NIMBYs of Alta Vista — former Mayor Kelly Kirschner, Commissioner Chapman, et al — would be all over

that. But hey, as Mr. Marbut urges, they can get beyond that.

+ Bus service for the drivers
So we see that Sarasota and Manatee counties’ officials canceled their meeting Tuesday to discuss merging and privatizing their respective bus systems.

Reason: lack of support from either county for a joint proposal.

No surprise there.

None of the two counties’ commissioners has the courage to become a champion of privatizing, or better, eliminating a service that is a fiscal millstone around taxpayers’ necks.

It’s a wonder why taxpayers aren’t up in arms over the fact that, according to the county figures above, “user charges” (presumably bus fares) cover only 2.9% of the total cost of the county’s bus system.

Based on what the Sarasota Observer reported last week on the subject of privatizing bus services, it appears the entire bus system is operated for the benefit of the drivers and their pensions.

If commissioners and the county administrator were serious about addressing this fiscal black hole, they might at least consider doing what Congress does: Appoint a panel of experts to come up with less costly alternatives to what exists. Surely there is a better way.

+ No more restaurants?
It’s not a food problem; it’s a landlord problem.

Marty Rappaport, chairman of the St. Armands Business Improvement District, resurrected last week the idea of trying to limit the number of restaurant establishments on St. Armands Circle and on Main Street in downtown Sarasota.

He’s worried St. Armands and Main Street are headed toward becoming one of those awful mall food courts.

Thank goodness, city attorneys advised trying to legislate the number of restaurants is a legal non-starter.
We see this two ways: In some respects, an overly high concentration of restaurants could be good. America revolves around food. And a plethora of restaurants in one area could create an extraordinary economic dynamic, a la Bourbon Street.

The other side of it is this: The landlords of these properties should talk and strategize about what mix of tenants would work best for the overall health of the Circle and Main Street. Think like a mall owner.




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Currently 2 Responses

  • 1.
  • Comparing a place for dysfunctional people to a landfill? You have hit a new level of callousness. And to think that the Salvation Army is the cause of the downtrodden's being here is like thinking that Sarasota Memorial Hospital is the reason we have people who are ill in Sarasota. As long as we run our culture the way we have, there will be poor and suffering. If we continue the trend towards concentration of all the wealth in the top 2% with the rest getting poorer, it will get much worse. If that be the case, you ain't seen nothin' yet in terms of masses of wretched in Sarasota and all cities. The thinking that went into this article needs to be rethought with some wisdom.
  • William Anderson
    Sat 19th Oct 2013
    at 10:08am
  • 2.
  • Thank you for the provocative article. Your consistent coverage of human service stories is beneficial for the recognition of current intention and consequences. Additionally, your efforts encourage the greater community to become involved in effective compassion.

    The article inspires two thoughts and one consideration for further contemplation.
    1- New thinking provides new options.
    2- The Sarasota Community collectively has a broken narrative on the homelessness issue. It is indeed time to create a new message of compassion.

    Might we consider a new community narrative that recognizes "Community Compassion" as the investment of resources into the progress of individuals through effective human services. Let us celebrate the compassion of the community, the efforts of those changing their circumstance and simultaneously determine what accountability of being a "good neighbor" should be expected from those receiving service.

    A new narrative with reasonably shared expectations of compassion will indeed raise the level of service and reduce vagrancy. Thankfully, there is notable scheduled progress in this effort.

    We invite all to be a part of the dialogue, mindful that The Salvation Army is moving quickly in sharing a new narrative. The community is join us in monthly public town hall meeting and weekly program development questions (Information posted through Facebook page.)

    Finally, I give thanks for the generous community citizens of Sarasota County. Might we collectively be found faithful in service to others.
  • Major Ethan Frizzell
    Sat 19th Oct 2013
    at 7:41am
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