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Five Points Park benches
Sarasota Monday, Dec. 7, 2015 5 years ago

City Commission to discuss returning benches to Five Points

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Nearly five years after removing benches from Five Points Park in an attempt to combat homelessness issues, the city is considering bringing seating back.

Visitors to Selby Five Points Park could soon find a new amenity in the downtown public space: a place to sit.

Today, the Sarasota City Commission will discuss placing benches in and around Five Points Park. In May 2011, the board unanimously voted to remove all seating from the park, a move designed to address problems associated with the presence of homeless individuals.

This year, there has been a growing push to bring the benches back. Ron Soto, a member of the Downtown Improvement District and president of the Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association, has been a leading advocate for that cause.

At the Nov. 16 City Commission meeting, he and Downtown Sarasota Condo Association president Patrick Gannon spoke in favor of installing seating.

“Our key concern is that there be adequate police security in and around the park and that there be other efforts to encourage active use of the park,” Gannon added to his message of support from the condo residents.

The city has shown an interest in increasing the activity at Five Points Park this year. Already, Vice Mayor Suzanne Atwell has offered her support for returning the benches.

In August, the commission agreed to issue a temporary vending permit at the park to the Baltimore Snowball Factory. After several attempts, that program was eventually suspended — due in part to issues with homeless individuals at the park, Baltimore Snowball Factory owner Eric Garfield said. Garfield added that he would still be interested in working with the city on vending in Five Points Park in the future.

Responding to a constituent concerned about the seating today, Barwin said in an email that the city was considering adding tables and chairs rather than benches. In the past, the city manager has encouraged a shorter trial period before making any changes permanent.

“We can use that as a gauge to see how it works — or doesn’t,” Barwin said.

The full agenda for today’s commission meeting can be found on the city website.

Update: This article has been edited to reflect comments from Baltimore Snowball Factory owner Eric Garfield.

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