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Sarasota Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019 9 months ago

Parking problems surface for Hart’s Landing events

The operator of the city-owned property expressed optimism a solution could be reached regarding musical performances near the water.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

When Sherman Baldwin earned the contract to operate Doc Werlin’s Place at Hart’s Landing, he was intent on making the city-owned bait shop a livelier destination.

Shortly after taking control of the property beneath the mainland side of the John Ringling Causeway in December 2017, Baldwin started hosting Saturday night events centered on performances from local musicians at Hart’s Landing. The concerts were popular enough to become a regular occurrence.

“For three glorious hours, visitors to Werlin Park, the Saprito Fishing Pier and Doc Werlin’s Place at Hart’s Landing are treated to some of the best homegrown music that this region has to offer — and it’s free,” Baldwin said at an Oct. 21 City Commission meeting.

Baldwin felt the community had embraced the events and noted that City Manager Tom Barwin had attended one of the concerts. That’s why he was surprised when he learned that, during an Oct. 5 performance, the city had ticketed people who had parked under the bridge and in a grass area on the east end of the bayfront park.

Baldwin spoke at the Oct. 21 commission meeting to ask the city to reconsider its decision to enforce parking regulations during the events. He said there had not been a parking-related incident in the nearly two-year history of the weekly series.

“Not a fender bender, not a burnout on the grass,” Baldwin said. “Nothing at all.”

He asked for a short-term exception, so visitors would still have easy access to the performances while he worked with city officials on a permanent strategy. A week after that meeting, Baldwin said he had not directly heard back from city officials. On Oct. 21, though, some commissioners indicated a desire to pursue a solution for the issue that Baldwin raised.

Mayor Liz Alpert said she would like to see the city explore the possibility of issuing the temporary special exception Baldwin requested, which signaled her support for the performances at Hart’s Landing.

“Once the concerts stop, then it’s over because people quit coming,” Mayor Liz Alpert said. “I think it’s a really great thing.”

Barwin said it would be nice to accommodate on-site parking near Hart’s Landing, but he said the city would have to work through some logistical issues. He said the city is working on adding five new designated parking spaces beneath the bridge but that people parking on the grass could potentially damage the infrastructure at the park.

Barwin said Doc Werlin, who has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars toward improvements to public properties in the area of Hart’s Landing, had also expressed interest in finding a solution to the problem.

“We’ll look through our options,” Barwin said.

Barwin said he did not know why city staff began enforcing parking regulations near Hart’s Landing but that it might have been driven by a complaint.

Even before he’s heard back from the city, Baldwin is strategizing in hopes of finding an option to accommodate the concerts without running into any more issues. The performances have continued even after the ticketing began. Earlier this month, Baldwin rented a stretch limousine that shuttled 116 people from the parking lot near Unconditional Surrender to the Hart’s Landing area.

He’s optimistic the issue will work itself out, and he’s still determined to ensuring the bayfront property is a thriving destination.

“I’m a big believer in Hart’s Landing and Werlin Park,” Baldwin said. “I think it’s a gem of this area. I’m very confident we’re going to find long- and short-term solutions to this.”

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