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Sarasota City Hall
Sarasota Monday, Mar. 16, 2020 2 months ago

City to close recreational facilities

The City Commission agreed to close the Robert L. Taylor Community Complex, Bobby Jones Golf Club and more as part of a coronavirus response effort. Action on bars and restaurants could be forthcoming.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

The city of Sarasota will be closing recreational facilities and canceling public meetings as officials continue to strategize a response to the spread of COVID-19.

Officials stopped short of taking any measures targeted at the operation of restaurants and bars, but some commissioners expressed a desire to act quickly if an edict does not come from the state within the next 24 hours.

“We know France just did that two days ago,” Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch said about potentially ordering the closure of those businesses. “If we could be a country that could turn back time three weeks, that’s where we are right now. I don’t know why we would wait.”

At the recommendation of Parks and Recreation Director Jerry Fogle, the commission agreed to proceed with the closure of facilities including the Robert L. Taylor Community Complex, Bobby Jones Golf Club, Arlington Park and Pool and the Payne Park Tennis Center effective Wednesday. In making their decision, officials cited the rate the coronavirus disease has spread in other countries and a directive from the federal government recommending against gatherings with more than 10 people.

“My mindset is: The next two, four six weeks are so critical for local municipalities to act in order to quote-unquote ‘flatten the curve,’” Commissioner Hagen Brody said.

City Manager Tom Barwin said he would like to wait at least one day to see if the Florida Department of Health, the governor’s office or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issue any official guidance on how to handle restaurants and bars. Barwin said he believed most residents and business owners were being smart in their approach to responding to COVID-19, and he said there would be challenges associated with closing down restaurants and bars at a local level.

“Most business, they want to keep their employees working, they want to keep a paycheck coming in, they want to pay their rent,” Barwin said. “It’s the most tricky area.”

Although Ahearn-Koch supported taking action to close restaurants and bars, commissioners Shelli Freeland Eddie and Liz Alpert expressed hesitance to act, particularly ahead of other local governments or the state. City Attorney Robert Fournier said there could be potential legal challenges if the city closed private businesses, although he believes the city has the authority to do so.

The city has taken other action in response to COVID-19, including canceling the commission meeting scheduled April 6 and other advisory board meetings in the near future. Barwin also said the city has indefinitely suspended all water shutoffs.

The city declared a public health emergency linked to the coronavirus Friday. More information about the city’s response to COVID-19 is available on the city website.

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