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Alex Mahadevan will write a weekly editorial called, "Municipal Focus," espousing a Sarasota young professional's view of politics.
Sarasota Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013 4 years ago

MUNICIPAL FOCUS - A weekly commentary: Commissioners stifle restaurant plans while public-works projects thrive

by: Alex Mahadevan News Innovation Editor

One vote.

The Sarasota City Commission’s recent denial of plans for 1400 Main St. should be enough to convince young professionals their votes count in municipal elections.

The commission vote is also convincing that voices heard in City Commission meetings are not ignored.

Commissioners Susan Chapman, Willie Shaw and Suzanne Atwell sided with the naysayers — against Siesta Key property owner Chris Brown’s Bourbon Street-style gallery at Five Points, site of the former Patrick’s restaurant.

One vote made the difference.

The City Commission rejected Brown’s plans for private improvements, while the city and the Downtown Improvement District pour nearly $2 million into their Main Street improvement project.

Crews shut down roads, tore out parking spaces and disrupted business all summer to widen sidewalks and add brick pavers, among other enhancements.

But wouldn’t Brown’s plans have accomplished that and more?

“In short, almost all of the basic human situations can be enriched by the qualities of the gallery,” said architect Chris Gallagher, who represented Brown.

Young professionals, a crucial component in the quest toward a vibrant downtown space, crave new, expanded restaurants. They want places to meet other young professionals after 9 p.m. on weekend nights.

Brown’s plan was unprecedented. It was new.

And that “cued” the vocal opponents.

Dozens of residents protested the proposed design as “appalling” and grotesque,” while Gallagher, an award-winning architect looked on. Opponents cited potential noise concerns and that Brown would be using the public right-of-way to no benefit of the public. They asked why the city was widening sidewalks if Brown would just be building over them.

The true motives behind the crowd at the Oct. 9 commission meeting may never come into public focus. But the end result is a symptom of the doublespeak coming out of City Hall.

What good are brick pavers in downtown Sarasota without a diverse commercial district to attract traffic for them?

If the kind of anti-anything-new-or-different sentiment continues at City Hall, at least downtown will be a “walkable” ghost town.

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