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Sarasota Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013 3 years ago

DID reconsiders parking meters

by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

At a workshop Tuesday, the Downtown Improvement District turned its eye toward the year ahead, brainstorming and prioritizing projects for fiscal year 2013-14.

With the group committed to financing a recent $1.8 million Main Street improvement project, the DID’s remaining capital is dwindling. The DID has about $132,535 on hand for the upcoming year, and it is slated to have $82,390 available for FY 2014-15. The DID is funded by a 2-mill tax on property owners in the district.

As a result, the group has also begun to consider ways to create new revenue streams. From expanding the district’s boundaries to implementing paid parking to receiving funding from the downtown Community Redevelopment Agency, developing a new source of funding was voted as the board’s highest priority during Tuesday’s meeting.

“Eighty thousand dollars is nothing,” DID Chairman Ernie Ritz said regarding the group’s projected budgets. “Expansion of the DID, or external income to support the DID, is paramount to the success of the DID.”

Eileen Hampshire, who represents the DID on the city’s parking committee, suggested parking meter revenue could help the group’s bottom line. Hampshire said the district could install 10 parking meters along Palm Avenue and on the 1300 and 1400 blocks of Main Street. The revenue from those meters could go toward installing security at the Palm Avenue garage, Hampshire said.

Several board members supported that proposal and suggested the funds could be used for other improvements, as well. DID board member Mark Kauffman said the resistance to previous attempts to institute paid parking could be overcome if merchants knew where the revenue was going.

“Whenever you try to put meters in, the tenants say, ‘No, no, no,’” Kauffmann said. “If you say all the profits will be used on your block, they say, ‘That’s a great idea.’ I think that’s a very workable solution.’”

Kauffman is the most skeptical of the DID board members regarding a possible expansion of the district, which roughly encompasses the land from Second Street south to Ringling Boulevard, west to Gulfstream Avenue and east to Goodrich Avenue. He said he fears the group would become ineffectual if it spread itself further and suggested groups interested in joining the DID would be better served by forming their own improvement districts.

“I think I’ve always resisted expanding the DID,” Kauffman said. “I think it’s easier to do a lot of good in a smaller group than trying to expand it. If you add Rosemary, Towles Court and Fruitville, it becomes a mammoth thing to me.”

DID Manager John Moran is one of the loudest advocates for an expanded district. He suggests the borders could be redrawn along U.S. 301, Fourth Street, Ringling Boulevard and the bay. Moran, who helped draw the original boundaries of the DID, said the current map is outdated. He wanted the board to push past any initial resistance to expansion.

“What I’m hearing disappoints me in the thinking little, wanting to sit here for five years and decide how to split up $70,000 or $80,000,” Moran said. “We could be thinking bigger and doing things that the folks like the Ritz-Carlton and the Hyatt would see as directly benefiting them.”

The DID outlined other top priorities for the next fiscal year, including shorter-term efforts, such as sidewalk improvements along Main Street. The second most popular project was the expansion of security downtown, with several board members emphasizing the importance of working with downtown merchants and residents to raise money for an undertaking the DID would struggle to fund on its own.

The increased promotion of downtown was another high priority, with Downtown Economic Development Coordinator Norm Gollub underscoring the competitive nature of retail in the area.

“I think, at this point, the community needs to focus on branding, marketing and promotion,” Gollub said. “We are in deep competition and are about to get even deeper with the University Town Center coming.”

Ron Soto, who was selected to join the DID board at a Nov. 18 City Commission meeting, said the group should focus on capitalizing on its recent expansive streetscape improvements. In that respect, he said, the security and advertising efforts were particularly important.

“All the bricks and mortar in the world will not bring people downtown if you don’t promote it and it’s not a safe environment for them,” Soto said.

DID’s top priorities for 2013-14
At a workshop Tuesday, the DID outlined some of its top priorities for the upcoming year. The preliminary top-five issues were:

• Developing a new source of funds, via expansion or otherwise;
• Expanding security downtown, with a focus on including residents in the funding process;
• Setting aside contingency money for emergency projects;
• Promoting downtown;
• Improving or maintaining the sidewalks on the 1400 and 1500 blocks of Main Street.

Contact David Conway at [email protected]


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