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Sarasota Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009 8 years ago

10 to contend: Diana Corrigan

by: Robin Hartill Managing Editor

Santa Claus was stuck in traffic. He was going to be late for his 6:15 p.m. appearance.

Diana Corrigan was giving a speech announcing Santa’s arrival at the 2008 “Holiday Night on St. Armands” when she got word that the big guy in a red suit was running late. So, she improvised, leading the crowd in a Christmas carol sing-a-long until Santa made his grand entrance.

In 2010, Corrigan, executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association, will be improvising more than ever. Some of the Circle’s retailers reported their worst season last year. The association’s 2009-10 marketing budget was slashed from $78,000 to $17,000, after a bank required the St. Armands Business Improvement District (BID) to pay off an unsecured line of credit. And Corrigan now works to market the Circle with a $17,000 budget, all of which has been committed.

“Our challenge is trying, with a very limited budget, to make businesses thrive,” Corrigan said.

This year, the Circle won’t see any of the capital improvements, such as better signage, public restrooms and a parking garage, laid out in the St. Armands Master Plan that the Sarasota City Commission approved in February. The Circle will have just one “Smooth Jazz on the Circle” concert in St. Armands Circle Park, which can cost up to $10,000, because the association pays for all related costs, including police, trash collection and cleanup. Instead, Corrigan plans to focus more on events like the recent “Fright Night,” which drew more than 3,000 people to the Circle on Halloween. Because the event took place on the sidewalks and didn’t use the park, it cost the association nothing. And, the association wants to create more family-friendly events that will draw locals, as well as tourists, to the Circle.

Corrigan has already had one victory that bodes well for 2010: The City Commission agreed to assess a $250 flat-rate fee for the use of St. Armands Circle Park, instead of a proposed plan that could have cost the association up to $17,000 for events. Corrigan fought the proposed fees, describing them as short-sighted, given the tax revenue that the events generate and the fact that the association pays the city for costs associated with each event.

Corrigan will also continue to speak out in support of the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s proposed $400 million renovation plan.

“One of the areas where we lack is convention centers and meeting space,” Corrigan said. “If they came here, it could open the door for satellite businesses, or it could be that the corporate executive wants to buy a home here. This project is vital.”

Corrigan discovered Sarasota on a business trip after searching for eight years for the right place to relocate from her native Syracuse, N.Y., where she was working as executive director of the Central New York Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Corrigan remembers falling in love with St. Armands Circle over lunch at The Columbia Restaurant. She made the move at the end of 1999 and was hired as executive director of the Circle Association in January 2000.

The past year has been a challenging one for Corrigan, while she continues to help businesses succeed in an economy in which high-end retailers have been hit hard. But Corrigan sees reasons for optimism.
Although many retailers told Corrigan the 2008-09 season was their shortest season ever, Corrigan estimates that just five businesses closed at the end of spring — which is typical for any season.

Another reason for optimism: On a trip to Paris over the summer, Corrigan noticed that most Parisians she chatted with knew Sarasota as the home of St. Armands Circle.

“People come here because of St. Armands,” Corrigan said. “Our brand is strong.”

Age: 58
Hometown: Syracuse, N.Y.
Passions: Fine arts, especially ballet
Interesting fact: Corrigan and her husband, Richard, used to perform vocally. The duo sang folk, Christian and motivational music.
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].

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