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A string of lights on a tree in downtown Sarasota
Sarasota Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020 2 months ago

Holiday decor falls flat for mayor

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Property owners are working with the city on a strategy to make downtown more festive.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

‘Tis the season, but Mayor Hagen Brody isn’t feeling jolly.

At least not when he looks at the holiday decorations on display in downtown Sarasota. On Monday, Brody sent an email to staff expressing his frustration with the festive decor in the city center, highlighting nonfunctional lighting and calling the state of the display “sad.”

Brody said he’s been fighting for improved holiday decorations for years, and he believes it’s an important economic development tool even during a challenging period for businesses.

“It may sound trivial to some, but a beautiful holiday [display] on Main Street is as American as apple pie,” Brody wrote. “It would lift spirits in these tough times and attract commerce to our struggling downtown businesses — and we are failing them big time.”

The city’s Downtown Improvement District, which partnered with the city to put up the lighting, discussed Brody’s concerns at a meeting Tuesday. The board agreed there were issues with the current setup and agreed to set aside up to $30,000 to address any problems with the lighting over the next two months. The additional funding would shift the maintenance schedule for the lights from monthly to weekly.

The DID was unclear on the precise cause of the problem. Board member Ron Soto said he believed the vendor selected to maintain the lights was not providing the level of service required in its contract, but he said the vendor attributed any outages to an issue with the city’s utility connections. Some board members were hesitant to contribute additional funds if the vendor wasn’t doing what they were supposed to.

“We shouldn’t have to be throwing more money at them,” Soto said. “We should be getting what we pay for.”

In his email, Brody pledged to address any issues with this year’s lighting and improve on the decorations for future holiday seasons. Brody said a discussion item on the decorations could be added to the Dec. 7 City Commission meeting.

“I will do what I can to salvage this year, but this will never ever happen again in the city of Sarasota,” Brody wrote. “Our residents, visitors and businesses deserve so much better.”

DID Chairman Wayne Ruben said Brody’s concerns were understandable, but he felt it was unfair to compare the downtown decorations to the lighting display at University Town Center, which relies on different funding models and regulatory processes.

Ultimately, the group agreed to work with the city to devise a way to improve on the quality of the holiday decorations downtown.

“We all have the same goal,” Ruben said. “To help the merchants.”

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