The city is not sugarcoating the construction of the Five Points roundabout.
“We’re going to create an inconvenience downtown in 2010,” said Glenn Marzluf, the city’s general manager of utility field operations and engineering. “But, boy, is it going to be better when it’s done.”
Marzluf gave a project update at the Downtown Improvement District’s (DID) Oct. 6 meeting. It was the most heavily attended DID meeting in the group’s eight months in existence. Downtown residents and business owners packed the room to hear about the plans and how they would affect Main Street.
The project calls for the removal of the traffic lights and installation of small medians in each street leading into Five Points. A roundabout will be constructed with a landscaped center island consisting of three large trees, ground cover, flowers, an 18-inch-tall fence and three flagpoles.
Pineapple Square developer John Simon questioned blocking the view across the roundabout, but Marzluf said the goal is actually to impede the view all the way across, so drivers will only look at approaching traffic on the left.
Engineers say seeing cars on the other side of a roundabout confuses drivers who are not familiar with them, because they may think there’s no room to enter the roundabout, when, in fact, there is plenty of time.
The start date was another hot topic. The city had originally hoped to have construction begin this month and be complete by Thanksgiving. But during an August pre-bid meeting, prospective contractors said that timeframe was impossible, because the work could take up to five months to complete.
Marzluf presented stakeholders with two options: begin in May and possibly interfere with the July 4 parade on Main Street, or begin after July 4 and possibly have construction run into tourist season.
“I was a commissioner during the 1350 (Main) mess,” said former Mayor Mary Anne Servian. “It went on and on and on. Get this started in the middle of May and get it over with.”
That seemed to be the consensus, even though merchants expressed some trepidation about the disruption to business.
“People become afraid to come downtown if they don’t know how to get around (the construction),” said Wendy Getchell, owner of Lotus and president of the Downtown Sarasota Alliance. “It could put people out of business.”
One option is to do much of the work at night, so Main Street won’t be as disrupted during business hours.
But downtown residents expressed concern that loud construction could keep them up at night.
Marzluf said it’s ultimately the public works director’s decision, but said the suggestion to begin work in May will carry great weight with the city.
And there is as much work going on underground at Five Points as above ground. The project includes the replacement of waterlines, and because this is one of the oldest intersections in the city, engineers aren’t sure exactly what problems they’ll encounter once they begin digging.