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Sarasota Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011 5 years ago

Commission holds off on funding CRA projects

by: Rachel Brown Hackney Managing Editor

Acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency Monday, the Sarasota City Commission agreed to await a report from the Downtown Improvement District on residents’ ideas about redesigning Main Street before proceeding with any major projects utilizing CRA funds.

The commissioners said that would give them more flexibility in providing funding assistance for the streetscape and landscaping projects.

The commissioners also agreed they no longer would distribute the Community Development grants, ranging from $5,000 to $25,000, which had been used by businesses to enhance storefronts. They also will cease the Economic Development and Business Enhancement grants, which have ranged from $25,000 to $99,999.

Those moves drew criticism from Paul Thorpe, organizer of the city’s annual holiday parade and a long-time resident, who told the commissioners, “Economics are down; things are slow downtown … We need to have that support downtown.”

Thorpe added of the decision, “I think it’s a tragedy.”

However, Vice Mayor Terry Turner told the Sarasota Observer after the meeting, “Downtown’s pretty prosperous compared to what it was 15 years ago, and it was pretty hard to justify (continuing those grants).”

Turner also was one of the primary proponents Monday of holding off on the construction of the State Street parking garage, a project the commission agreed last year that it would complete within about four years.

The project is estimated at $7.3 million.

Ernie Ritz, chairman of the DID, told the commission his group will hold another session at 9 a.m. Nov. 1 to discuss options for Main Street. Then from 4 to 7 p.m. Nov. 14, the public will be able to view renderings of the options on display in the foyer of City Hall, 1565 First St., Sarasota. Cost estimates for the preferred options should be available for the City Commission by the end of the year, Ritz said.

Turner told Ritz the CRA should have about $6 million for capital projects.

“I have some urgency about getting stuff done,” he said, after talking about projects the past two-and-a-half years he has served on the commission.

The commission Monday also looked at the possibility of funding other new projects, including the removal of the existing left-turn lane into Bayfront Park at the intersection of Main Street and U.S. 41. That lane could be replaced with a pedestrian refuge at a total cost of about $400,000, City Engineer Alex DavisShaw explained.

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