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Sarasota Tuesday, Sep. 15, 2009 10 years ago

Merchants, Partnership merger talks back on

by: Robin Roy City Editor

A week after announcing that merger talks were off, downtown merchants and the Downtown Partnership will sit down this week and try to hammer out an agreement, thanks to the bulldogging effort of Larry Fineberg, chairman of the Downtown Improvement District (DID).

“I think we’re on the one-yard line,” Fineberg said. “Come prepared to make an agreement.”

The merger between the partnership, Downtown Merchants Association and Palm Avenue Merchants Association had been in the works since May. But it dissolved Sept. 9, a day after the city commission took control of the farmers market away from the partnership and gave it to the market vendors.

The merchants were disappointed that the vendors had an organized contingent of supporters at the City Commission meeting and the partnership only sent one speaker.

“The farmers market was the last straw,” said Wendy Getchell, president of the Downtown Merchants Association.

The two sides had been at odds over the makeup of the board of the combined organization.

“We wanted a smaller board with more merchant representation,” said Getchell. “The partnership didn’t want that.”

She said the negotiations weren’t going anywhere, and if the talks just went back-and-forth, the merchants would not have time to plan events for tourist season.

Upon hearing why the merger was called off, Fineberg was incensed.

“It sounds like you just gave up,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of problem financially supporting you, now that it’s not a combined organization.”

Because the DID represents downtown property owners, Fineberg said the combined merchants associations would not represent his constituents.

Despite assurances from merchants that that would not be the case, Fineberg refused to let the issue go until representatives from the merchants associations and partnership agreed to meet this week.

“This could be resolved in one meeting,” he said.

That meeting was set for Friday, Sept. 18.

“I still think there’s hope for a combined organization,” said Eileen Hampshire, president of the Palm Avenue Merchants Association.

Said Phil Chmieleski, chairman of the Downtown Partnership: “I believe downtown still needs glue. Nothing is off the table.”

Contact Robin Roy at [email protected].


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