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Photo by Norman Schimmel.
Siesta Key Thursday, Mar. 8, 2012 5 years ago

Merchant motto: Salvage the season

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

James Derheim received the call just minutes after the Sarasota City Commission’s vote Monday.

He was told to spread the news of the latest development in the parking meter saga: The commission had voted 3-2 that time had expired for the downtown parking-meter program into which $500,000 taxpayer dollars had been invested.

Derheim, the owner of European Focus on Main Street and the leader of a “Bag the Meters” rally downtown last month, said the word moved like wildfire down Main Street.

“We feel like dancing in the street,” said Derheim. “Some of us just might.”

After almost a year of contentious debate and changes in the parking program — including bagging the meters last summer and relocating many of them to the city’s judicial district —Commissioner Shannon Snyder agreed to join Vice Mayor Terry Turner and Commissioner Paul Caragiulo in casting the third vote needed to end the meter mania. Mayor Suzanne Atwell and Commissioner Willie Shaw dissented.

Monday’s 3-2 vote also made the Palm Avenue parking garage free for the foreseeable future.

Nonetheless, not all merchants and organizations downtown are happy with the commission’s action.

During the Downtown Sarasota Alliance’s Wednesday meeting, the board members approved a motion to send a letter to the commission, explaining they were upset that the decision followed discussion on an agenda item that was intended only as an update on the recent city parking management forum.

“Monday night, the credibility of this commission took a huge drop,” said former city commissioner and DSA board member Ken Shelin.

Mayor Suzanne Atwell said in an interview Wednesday that while the agenda item was added to the regular meeting last Friday, any commissioner had a right to make a motion about the parking meters.

“I wasn’t quite sure where we were headed Monday, but the end decision didn’t surprise me,” Atwell said. “Now we take a deep breath and move on.”

City parking manager Mark Lyons is meeting with city staff this week to discuss the paid meters and the parking enforcement program.

Palm Avenue garage myths debunked
Several rumors about the Palm Avenue garage have surfaced since it was constructed in 2010, the Sarasota Observer has learned.

City parking manager Chris Lyons answered the following questions about the garage regarding comments residents have been discussing among themselves for months.

• When the $599,995 exterior sails were put up on a windy day, the construction crew had trouble installing them and waited a day for the wind to subside. Do the sails need to be removed during windy weather and do they meet hurricane wind-load standards?
The sails on the garage do not need to be taken down. I’m unaware of any issues with the sails when they were put up. They meet safety wind requirements.

• Do the lights on the garage need to be turned on manually?
No. They are turned on automatically.

• Do the bulbs used to project different colors onto the garage have to be changed manually?
No. It’s done automatically.

A group of Palm Avenue merchants willing to pay $2.2 million last year to purchase the Palm Avenue garage retail space are frustrated that the space remains vacant.

Sarasota entrepreneur Jesse Biter, who is paying the city $1.6 million for the 11,000-square-foot retail area, has promised to inject new life into Palm Avenue after 5 p.m. He told the Sarasota Observer he couldn’t announce tenants for a few more weeks, but his plans should see a high-scale restaurant chain and several other tenants operating there by fall.

Palm Avenue property owner and Art to Walk On owner Eileen Hampshire points to the fact that the city is taking less money for the space than she and her group had offered. She pitched a plan to city officials in early 2011 to let the members of her group purchase the space. Instead, the city put the space up for bid and ended up accepting Biter’s proposal.

“I found five other art gallery owners and a restaurant owner to purchase it with me,” Hampshire said. “But I was told one person had to buy all seven retail spaces.”

What annoys Hampshire, she said, is the fact the merchants were willing to pay what was then the asking price for the space, and they would have filled it before now.

“They turned us down and sold it to someone else for a cheaper price,” Hampshire said.

Dabbert Gallery co-owner Patricia Dabbert was one of the Palm Avenue business owners who signed on to Hampshire’s proposal.

“We were ready to buy the thing for more money, but I guess (the city) felt it best to sell it to someone who hasn’t been able to put one store in it yet,” Dabbert said.


Total cost
Cost of construction: $11,825,583
Exterior sails: $599,995
Total construction cost: $12,425,578

Monthly expenses
Monthly personnel salaries/benefits: $7,000
Monthly operating costs: $10,000
Monthly operation costs: $17,000

Revenue collected since the city began charging for its spaces Nov. 18, 2011:
Total revenue collected through Feb. 20, 2012: $54,200*
* Revenue collected includes payments of hourly parking fees, permits and special-event leases.

Garage Employees’ salaries
Parking concierge (95%): $25,410
Parking concierge (95%): $19,059
Parking services supervisor (20%): $7,736
Parking manager (20%): $13,600
Parking maintenance technician (15%): $4,012
Parking revenue collection specialist (10%): $4,132
Total salary amounts relating to garage: $73,949
(Percentages above relate to the amount of
salary allocated to garage work only) 

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