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Sarasota Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020 2 months ago

St. Armands group advances parklet plan

The St. Armands Business Improvement District also wants to work with city staff on plans to potentially allow housing and hotels in the Circle.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

Are visitors to St. Armands Circle interested in playing a game of chess?

That’s just one of the questions the St. Armands Business Improvement District hopes to answer by building a parklet in the median along South Boulevard of the Presidents.

At its Nov. 18 meeting, the BID unanimously voted to approve a concept design for a small amenity zone set to include a small performance area, rocking chairs, an oversized chessboard and overhead lighting. The final product is still subject to change, but the BID board of directors expressed excitement about the parklet as an opportunity to bring energy to the Circle and to encourage outdoor activity.

“I want people to come to St. Armands Circle and go, ‘Oh, my God, this place is so cool,’” board member Geoffrey Michel said.

The BID worked with Dan Lear of DSDG Architects on the design. Lear estimated the cost of the project as designed at $19,813.

Although the BID voted to move forward with the project, board members and other stakeholders did have some questions. Multiple board members questioned whether the outdoor equipment, such as the chess pieces, might be stolen from the public space. Lear said the visibility of the site should prevent issues during the day, and chess pieces are relatively inexpensive to replace.

Board member Gavin Meshad questioned whether the BID could make better use of the space dedicated to the chessboard, suggesting additional seating could be more practical. Diana Corrigan, the executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association, wanted to make sure that the project was being designed to complement shopping and dining activity in the commercial district and stated she didn’t want the Circle to become “a place of amusement.”

Michel and board member Mindy Kauffman said they liked the chessboard, with Michel stating he got positive feedback on the feature from people who saw the concept image. BID Operations Manager Brandy Wiesner said she saw the game as a bonus feature, not an attraction.

“I don’t think someone’s going to say, ‘I’m just going to go out there to play chess and leave,’” Wiesner said. “That would be surprising to me.”

Before it can build the parklet, the BID will work with the city on a plan for long-term management of the public space. The group also remained undecided on some aspects of the project, discussing the possibility of removing the performance stage and freeing up funds for a second parklet on North Boulevard of the Presidents. The board initially conceived of the project as a trial program to explore the addition of a variety of amenities to St. Armands.

Despite some debate about specifics, the group remained committed to the parklet as an exciting placemaking opportunity.

“Are people going to rush to the Circle because we have a chessboard out there?” Meshad said. “Probably not. But is it going to spur a little bit of interest and a little bit of panache? I think it’s a good test run to see how these things work as we start expanding our overall vision of the Circle.”

Zoning updates

The BID continues to pursue larger changes to the zoning on St. Armands Circle, voting unanimously to work with Lear and city staff on an effort to revise the building rules within the district.

The board agreed to retain Lear as a consultant for up to $35,000 as the BID pursues amendments to the code for St. Armands. In a presentation to the BID, Lear identified three goals from the zoning amendment process:

  • Promote residential construction on the Circle;
  • Allow hotels in the district; and
  • Include guidelines for future development.

Once the process of exploring potential zoning changes begins in earnest, Kauffman said it was crucial to reach out to other stakeholders  including residents and merchants.

“I know we all have some idea of what we want to achieve, but I don’t know that we have exact numbers of exactly how high, exactly how many units,” Kauffman said. “Until we really engage the community, we’re not going to have a sense of what other options and challenges are going to be there.”

As it attempts to identify the optimal process for pursuing revisions, board members spoke highly about the potential to transform St. Armands.

“This is the only way we’re going to take the Circle to the next level,” Meshad said.

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