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Sarasota Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011 5 years ago

Our View: Halt downtown streetscape


There is a lot wrong with the city’s proposed streetscape project along downtown’s Main Street historic district.

Let’s count the ways.

• Concept. The plan calls for removing 48 parking spaces along Main Street, narrowing the street with new parallel parking and widening sidewalks. The concept alone is enough to derail the plan.
Parking is at such a premium along Main Street that the city recently installed parking meters to open up more spaces. That controversial decision has roiled merchants and customers, but this plan then goes in the opposite direction by taking parking spaces off Main Street.

• Construction disruption. The construction called for in the streetscape plan is extensive — tearing up streets and sidewalks and re-laying them in a different configuration. Construction projects are well-known business killers, and given the questionable advantages coming from the final product, it looks like a bad bet for businesses.

• Timing. All of this upheaval comes just after the city built the roundabout at Five Points. The result is pleasant, but it cost a lot of businesses a lot of money. Some barely survived it.

Timing II. Has the city noticed the economy stinks? Add it up. Merchants along lower Main Street particularly — those that have survived — have struggled through four years of economic downturn and the disruptions of parking meters and roundabout construction. And now the city wants to tear everything up?

The cost-benefits of this are so alarmingly bad, one could almost ask if the city gives any real consideration to the plight of its merchants. But we’ll let the merchants themselves make the case.

• Ron Soto, owner of Soto’s Optical:“If they do this, they will take half of my parking away.”

• Dan O’Connor, owner of Irish Pub: “All we ask is that they leave us alone for a while.”

• Liz Avis, manager of Barnacle Bill’s:“First, they put in parking meters, and now, they want to tear up the street? It’s so unbelievable, it’s almost comical.”

• Jim Sullivan, owner of Patrick’s: “The roundabout construction decimated our business, so imagine what tearing up the whole street will do.”

• Tom Friend, owner of Friend’s Jewelers: “It will destroy businesses just trying to make ends meet. … Just leave us alone for at least a couple of years.”

Those businesses that survive the construction phases will be faced with reduced convenient parking for patrons, adding to the reasons why some people will choose more accessible shopping venues.

City planners and some others complain that they have held a bunch of public meetings for input. Frankly, these folks need to wake up to a reality: Merchants spending 60 or 70 hours a week trying to stay in business do not have time to keep attending public meetings on the next disastrous idea cooked up at an out-of-touch City Hall.

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