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Sarasota Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012 6 years ago

Our View: No bricks, no parallel parking!


Now, if only the Sarasota city commissioners will listen.

The downtown merchants — the business owners whose enterprises create the downtown economic engine and whose family investments are at stake — were ultra-explicit Tuesday:

No bricks and no parallel parking on lower Main Street!

We hope the Downtown Improvement District board of directors listens to the merchants when it formulates a recommendation next Tuesday for the Sarasota City Commission to review. We also hope the commission backs off any such grand plans to execute such a major face lift on lower Main Street.

It has been baffling for the past few months following discussions within City Hall and among members of the Downtown Improvement District about initiating yet another Main Street makeover. As we argued in November, along with many, many Main Street-area merchants and business owners, the last thing Main Street needs now is more physical disruption.

Enough already. Last summer’s Five Points roundabout construction, the tearing up of lower Main Street and the uproar over parking meters exacted enough of a toll on merchants, shoppers and diners.
No one needs any more cheese to be moved.

Indeed, Main Street needs some stability and predictability for a while. Observe and take notes. Watch the effects of the parking meters. Observe the consequences of the Palm Avenue parking garage. Gauge the effects of the Five Points roundabout. What have these changes wrought? Measure.

There’s time. There is not a downtown crisis. It’s not a race. Act with patience.

But all the while this period of stability and observance is occurring, it makes sense to consider some of the simple and effective cosmetic enhancements that merchants have suggested, such as lights in the trees and more flowers and landscaping.

As for the bigger picture — the grand vision for Main Street — at the risk of sounding like another charette-touting consultant, this may be worth considering: developing a mission, vision and core values for the different sections of Main Street.

While Main Street is one street, it has different personalities. Bayfront to Five Points is different than Five Points to Orange Avenue. Orange to Osprey Avenue is different from Osprey to 301. A consistent look for all of Main may sounds like it makes sense, but doesn’t.

This is where the Downtown Improvement District leaders might try again to look beyond today and ask the merchants and property owners in the district to craft a long-term vision and mission. Here’s an important question to answer in that vein: What do the merchants and property owners want Main Street to be when they turn it over to their grandchildren?

Once they have a sense of where they’re headed, go visit the places that have succeeded. See how they’ve done it; learn what works. Apply what’s relevant to Sarasota.

Meantime, we’ll end by continuing a pitch we have made before: the Gil Waters vision for downtown.
In the 1960s, when Waters served on the City Commisson, he and his colleagues championed a bond issue that brought the city the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Bayfront Park and marina and Bayfront Drive. Two pieces were left undone: a pedestrian bridge over Bayfront Drive and a pedestrian-only portion of Main Street, a la Vienna, Austria.

The closing of lower Main would be monumental — an idea that will take much thought and discussion. The pedestrian bridge is far less controversial. Leave Main Street alone for now. In our view, the walkover bridge should be the next big step.

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