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The (final?) push for Pineapple Park

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After lengthy discussions regarding the sale of land near Pineapple Park to a developer, the City Commission will consider dedicating that property as parkland.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

A yearlong battle over a 30-foot-wide strip of land between a bank’s parking garage and a public park may reach a resolution Monday.

The two sides have been firmly established. Commercial real-estate firm Hembree & Associates, which is already developing a project next to the State Street garage, has been negotiating the purchase of an adjacent property near Pineapple Park with city staff. That sale would be in line with the city’s 2000 downtown master plan, which calls for the development of the land near the Northern Trust parking garage.

A group of residents, led by green space advocacy group Save Our Sarasota, believes that land near Lemon Avenue is functionally part of the park. With parkland in short supply in the city’s urban core, these residents are hesitant to give up any more — even if the city defines the land in question as part of the public right of way.

Although city staff has been working with Hembree & Associates on a potential sale for a two-story project, City Commissioner Susan Chapman has placed an item on Monday’s City Commission meeting agenda that could bring an end to those talks. Chapman is proposing the formal dedication of the land to Pineapple Park.

This news is exciting for Barbara Campo and Jude Levy, the leaders of Save Our Sarasota. The duo has prepared an extensive case in favor of Chapman’s proposal, focused largely on the lack of respect urban parkland has gotten in the city.

Campo and Levy point to Good Heart Place, the mermaid-centric fountain in the middle of Pineapple Park. The artwork is clearly deteriorating — its paint peeling and fading, its water stagnant and dirtied. Were the city properly focused on maintaining its parks, they argue, the fountain would be in a better state, the surrounding landscaping would look nicer and people would feel more inclined to use the park.

"We need to be able to use the parks we have." — Barbara Campo

Frequently, city officials have said a lack of funding hampers their ability to do anything beyond basic maintenance at parks. That’s not the case for the fountain: As of 2005, $27,500 had been donated to the city specifically for the long-term maintenance and repair of Good Heart Place. That money has not been spent, and city officials only recently became aware of the funds again.

This is just part of a larger trend, Campo says. Trees and benches have been removed from other parks. Pineapple Park’s footprint was reduced when Lemon Avenue was rerouted, bisecting the park’s original 1992 boundaries.

With an increasing number of residential projects in the downtown area, Campo thinks the city should enhance its public space.

“At the end of the day, it becomes (residents’) place to be,” Campo said. “We need to be able to use the parks we have.”

Pineapple Park development rendering
Hembree & Associates has previously provided conceptual renderings to give residents a sense of the potential project.

On Saturday, the Sarasota Farmers Market will hold its second “Save Pineapple Park” day. Because the market uses the land, manager Phil Pagano has fought the proposed sale. In July, the market held a similar event, and Pagano has helped gather more than 800 signatures in favor of preserving the land as-is.

Regardless of the final decision, Pagano is happy that he’s been able to publicize the potential sale and let members of the public weigh in with their thoughts.

“Now, the commission can make a decision either way,” Pagano said.

"The city was very excited when we started." — Joe Hembree

Joe Hembree, president of Hembree & Associates, bristles at the suggestion that Pineapple Park needs saving from him. As a potential property owner, he says it’s in his interest to see a thriving Pineapple Park.

City staff said Hembree’s team has scaled back earlier designs following input from residents and officials.

“We’ve allowed more space around the fountain and the planters,” Hoyt Architect designer Chris Gallagher said. “It’s getting pretty tight on the building at this point.”

If the parkland were left as-is, Gallagher argued it’s still unlikely the city will invest in improvements at Pineapple Park. Money from the sale of the land, however, could go toward upgrades.

“Everything comes down to a trade-off between different options,” Gallagher said.

Hembree said he’d understand if the city decided not to sell the land — but he’s holding out hope he can proceed with his proposal.

“I know the city was very excited when we started,” Hembree said. “I think what the city originally planned was the right way to go, but cities change.”

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