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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. 22, 2013 4 years ago

MUNICIPAL FOCUS - A weekly commentary: Petition underscores frustration with City Hall

by: Alex Mahadevan News Innovation Editor

Meet Ambrish Piare. He employs more than 110 people in downtown Sarasota. He owns Café Americano, Ivory Lounge and Jalea restaurants.

Piare has a vision for downtown Sarasota. And he has put that vision into a 577-word petition that goes like this:

“This petition is on behalf of beautiful Downtown Sarasota to be a great place to live, a great place to go out, a great place to enjoy any type of entertainment, a place to be together with friends and family, a place to dine any cuisine, a place to dance, a place to laugh, a place to live; a place for young and old, a place that is inviting for families, inviting for elderly people, inviting for young professionals, inviting for business people, and inviting for people who want entertainment; simply a place for everybody.”

In roughly 24 hours, more than 300 people have signed Piare’s petition, including many young professionals who want the same type of vibrant downtown as Piare.

But there also is an unspoken message in Piare’s petition. It’s a critique of the business-as-usual approach to dealing with complaints about sound, development plans or other issues brought up at City Hall.

Piare is frustrated that a small group of downtown residents controls the dialogue at Sarasota City Commission meetings. Last month, that came to light again when a lawyer representing residents of the Plaza at Five Points sent a letter to City Manager Tom Barwin requesting the city revoke Ivory Lounge’s conditional-use permit, according to Deputy City Attorney Michael Connolly.

The five-page letter accused Ivory Lounge of consistently violating the city’s sound ordinance.

Piare has spent nearly $85,000 on improvements to reduce noise and vibration at Ivory Lounge, including the use of unbreakable cups that cost $8 apiece. He says the groups that complain about noise rarely have any ideas for compromise.

“We need to have a discussion based on facts — not emotions,” Piare says. “The current way of communicating, and the current way the city commissioners are dealing with this is simply not working.”

He’s right. Because the issue is not going to go away. As the economy continues to rebound, surely downtown residents recognize there will be many proposals for new or expanded commercial activity downtown.

Likewise, city commissioners need to consider the fiscal upside to a vibrant downtown rather than the shouting voices at City Hall.

Piare is hoping his petition will show city officials there’s broad support for an “open and transparent” discussion about everything relating to the future of downtown, including the congregation of vagrants in Five Points Park.

At publication time, the petition continued to draw more electronic signatures. But will those signatures get the attention of city commissioners? Let’s hope so.

“With the right support,” says Piare’s petition, “I will present your signatures to the city officials, hopefully allowing us all to have an open, public and transparent discussion on the future of Downtown Sarasota — focusing on what we want, instead of what we do not want.”

The solution for those interested in a vibrant and commercially diverse downtown is more than a petition. It also requires a vote on election day; getting involved; and if all else fails, raising your voice at City Hall.

Sign the petition. It’s a start.

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