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Sarasota Wednesday, May 13, 2020 3 weeks ago

City stands behind decision to keep Lido Beach closed

Despite appeals from St. Armands Circle businesses, city leaders won't reopen the beach until next week at the earliest.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

A majority of the City Commission remains uncomfortable with the prospect of reopening Lido Beach.

In another 3-2 vote Tuesday, the board stood by its decision to keep the beach closed until at least May 18. The commission plans to revisit the topic at a meeting Monday.

Once again, the majority of the commission said it wanted to see more robust COVID-19 testing data before determining it is safe to reopen the beach. Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch said she hoped to have information from a state testing site near the Mall at University Town Center and recommendations from local health officials available at the commission’s May 18 meeting.

Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie said she was concerned by the rate of deaths locally associated with the coronavirus and would like to see stronger protective measures in place citywide, not just at Lido Beach. Commissioner Willie Shaw noted he did not see many people wearing masks on Lido Key or St. Armands when he visited Monday. Ahearn-Koch noted the city still did not meet the guidelines the federal government has shared for safely reopening states.

“Potentially, we can get there [by next week], but right now, we don’t meet the criteria, and I don’t know if we’re going to get there,” Ahearn-Koch said.

Commissioners Hagen Brody and Liz Alpert continued to advocate for reopening the beach. Brody pointed to concerns he’d heard from St. Armands businesses and questioned the notion that keeping the beach closed was a meaningful step for protecting the public.

“They are dying on the vine,” Brody said of Circle businesses. “They are closing up shop. The carnage is going to be pretty bad out there.”

Following the commission’s May 4 vote to keep the beach closed for at least two weeks, St. Armands businesses began to contact city officials and advocate for reopening the beach. Messages pointed to the beach as a potential salve for commercial tenants on the Circle, who said they're not seeing the level of activity they need to survive.

Reopening Lido Beach — the only public beach in Sarasota that remains closed as a COVID-19 precaution — could help bring customers back into their businesses, the messages said.

“Without financial help, and help from the city by opening the beach, [businesses] are not going to make it,” wrote Diana Corrigan, executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association, in a May 6 email.

Tom Leonard, owner of Shore restaurant, said the business cut 25 employees based on the limited traffic during the first three days of reopening. If things didn't pick up soon, he said the business would close again and lay off 60 additional employees it just brought back.

“I’m letting you know you are playing games with very hungry employees that want to get back to work and contribute to society,” Leonard wrote.

Although Alpert said she felt for St. Armands merchants, she said she would support closing the beach if she believed there was a public health rationale for the decision. However, because beaches are open elsewhere in the county and other city parks are not closed, she did not see the benefit of restricting people from using the beach while maintaining social distancing guidelines.

“I think it makes no sense to make a decision on that one small strip of land based on [countywide COVID-19] numbers,” Alpert said.

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