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Sarasota Thursday, Apr. 15, 2010 7 years ago

City aides downtown businesses

by: Robin Roy City Editor

With the first of five downtown construction projects now under way and others starting soon, business owners are heaping praise upon the city of Sarasota.

That’s not to say business owners aren’t afraid they will be impacted by the construction projects, but they’re pleased the city is going out of its way to lessen that impact.

“It’s different than what I’ve seen for the last six years,” said John Simon, Pineapple Square developer.
“The city realizes that downtown is a significant part of the fiscal health of Sarasota.”

At least one construction project will be continuing through December, and, at times, four projects will be occurring simultaneously. Work on the Palm Avenue parking garage is already under way. The replacement of a waterline under the 1300 block of Main Street begins June 1. Construction on the Five Points roundabout begins July 5. Improvements to the Main Street and Palm Avenue intersection starts Sept. 7, and downtown landscaping improvements begin in November.

It’s the month-long waterline project that business owners fear the most, because it is expected to shut down an entire city block for one month. More than a dozen businesses line that stretch of Main Street (see box below).

The city is taking several steps to ensure customers don’t fear going downtown.

“Our philosophy is that downtown businesses are very vital to the city,” said Bob Bartolotta, city manager.
“So we wanted to go the extra mile to help them.”

Among the steps the city has taken to protect businesses:

• Creating a new downtown-parking plan, complete with maps, to ensure enough customer and employee parking.

• Installing signs at roadblocks that list all the businesses inside the closed-off area that are still open.

• Running public-service announcements in newspapers and on TV to remind people that downtown businesses are still accessible.

• Sending regular e-mails informing residents of construction developments and changes.

• Holding regular stakeholder meetings to keep businesses and residents informed of the progress of the projects.

• Visiting businesses door-to-door to deliver parking maps and make sure business owners know every detail about the construction.

• Hiring the same project manager who oversaw the Ringling Bridge construction to coordinate the five projects.

“I think (the city is) doing great,” said Ernie Ritz, a construction company owner and Downtown Improvement District vice chairman. “The signs, advertisements, the liaison who’s working hand-in-glove with businesses, it’s a whole lot better.”

The newly hired project manager, Mary Ellen Maurer, said some of the measures city staff has recommended are unusual.

“Going door-to-door is not typical,” she said. “Addressing the parking is also above and beyond.”

Because so many businesses are worried that customers will not patron businesses during construction for fear of a lack of parking, the city is creating eight new parking spaces on Pineapple Avenue in front of the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre and Sarasota Opera.

A turn lane will be eliminated to make room for the parallel-parking spots. The new parking spaces will become permanent, because the turn lane will not be needed after the Five Points roundabout is complete.

“We want to be partners through all of this,” said Bartolotta.

Project                                                             Start                           End

Palm Avenue parking garage                           April 1                         Dec. 17
Waterline replacement                                     June 1                         June 30
Five Points roundabout                                    July 5                          Nov. 23
Palm and Main intersection                              Sept. 7                        Nov. 23
Landscaping improvements                             November                   Nov. 23


Open for Business
The entire 1300 block of Main Street, which runs from Five Points to Palm Avenue, is scheduled to close from June 1 to June 30, while a waterline is installed underground. The businesses on that block want their customers to know that their doors are still going to be open. To view a PDF of the businesses and their hours, click here.

Contact Robin Roy at [email protected].

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