From the serious to the whimsical, a lot happened in the past year.
12: The Big Guy speaks
The Ringling College Library Association's Town Hall Lecture Series is never short of star power. But one particular edition was short of, well, short power. And humor. Basketball icon Shaquille O’Neal, all 7-foot-1 of him, provided the height and the laughs for a one of a kind RCLA experience. The 2020 series starts in January.
15: Lending a helping hand
Grocery bags. You can throw them away (bad), recycle them (better) or donate them to folks such as Michelle Penn and 92-year-old Ida Andalora (best), who spin the plastic into a raw material with which they make sleeping mats for homeless people. Their operation is called, appropriately, Bags to Beds.
30: Manatee gets it right
Normally, the sharks in Las Vegas call the odds on who will win a Super Bowl. Uh, maybe we should start listening to Buffett, the manatee, when it comes to this sort of thing. He’s 10-2 picking Super Bowl winners with his snout at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, after picking the New England Patriots earlier this year. His betting pal, Hugh Manatee (get it, Hugh-manity . . . OK, moving on) better not quit his day job, though. He’s 6-6 after picking the Los Angeles Rams.
7: Long-running business gets OK
In operation since the Nixon administration, Flagman of Sarasota is finally recognized by county authorities as a legal enterprise – one the county itself had been doing business with for years. The cottage industry off 17th Street learned by accident it was wasn’t official when seeking permission to demolish a portion of the home it operated from. Ultimately, County Commissioners enacted a rule that allowed the business to remain in business.
10: Art show emphasizes the eclectic
You never really know what you’re going to find on Main Street’s Downtown Sarasota Festival of the Arts. Amid the flamingoes, palm tree paintings and azure-water art, a pair of Canadian visitors spotted something familiar. A moose sculpture.
14: I Do, all over again
About 400 couples came to Siesta Key Beach for the annual Valentine’s Day ritual at the county’s “Say I Do, Again’’ event. The longest-married couple at the event had been together for 65 years.
19: Making a statement
Police early in the morning spotted graffiti sprayed on the sometimes controversial Unconditional Surrender statue on the city’s waterfront. A crew normally tasked with the artworks upkeep was quick to respond and had the message removed later in the day.
28: Keys to literary success
Yes, Casey Scolari is typing on a typewriter. No, he’s not taking part in some kind of history lesson. Casey and members of the Dragonfly Café write poems – on demand – with manual typewriters (and Wite-Out for mistakes, presumably). Casey and Booker Middle School classmates under the tutelage of teacher Joanna Fox are learning to think on their feet. Patrons at events, for a small fee, choose three random words from a fishbowl, and the students do the rest, composing prose there on the spot.
1: Doggie graduation day
Southeastern Guide Dogs held a graduation ceremony of sorts for nine of its canine trainees at Sarasota’s Hyatt Regency.
7: Keeping it public
Some drivers and patrons of SCAT took to picket signs and street protests when County Commissioners turned the talk of system efficiency to privatization. Though the discussion ultimately focused on how to keep SCAT public while making some budget changes, few proposals have been implemented yet. A new round of public forums is underway.
7: Focusing on kindness
Dr. Seuss Day is typically full of silliness and whimsy. On the 115th anniversary of the author’s birth, there was plenty of smile-inducing rhyming to go around, but also a healthy dose of learning about kindness.
14: Greetings from Siesta Key
Depending on who you talk to on Siesta Key, spring break is a blessing, a curse, something to simply deal with. We chatted with business owners, visitors, law enforcement and residents about their experiences and, expectedly, got a wide range of view points.
4: Shopkeeper keeps time
We met Larry Adami at his clock shop downtown and were immediately struck by his passion. Driven from retirement by, well, boredom, he opened his store on Pineapple Avenue and stocked it with clocks from his personal collection. Some of the pieces date back to the 1600s and were built all around the world. “I will never get tired of this,’’ he said.
7: Art comes to Burns Court
Chalk artists from around the country filled Burns Court with their work for the first time since 2014. It was the convergence of a series of events, including the red tide outbreak in 2018 that prompted organizers in Venice to cancel. Two events were planned in 2019 to compensate, bringing back chalk art to Sarasota on a trial basis of sorts.
15: No diet for Fruitville Road
City Commissioners rejected a so-called road diet for Fruitville Road adjacent to downtown, electing the status quo for the four-lane thoroughfare instead of a version that could have reduced travel lanes in favor of better access for pedestrians and cyclists. Mayor Liz Alpert was the only supporter of the project on the commission dais.
21: Finding plenty of eggs
A cute photo of a child at an Easter egg hunt isn’t a hard thing to come by. With plenty of events, and plenty of kids, it’s often a matter of finding something different. In our case, Nora Finnegan at Jungle Gardens was impossible to resist.
2: A new place, and way, to park
City officials gathered in the St. Armands Parking Garage to officially open the structure and usher in an era of paid parking there and elsewhere in the barrier island shopping district. The garage was built with a series of sustainability features, such as solar power panels, a bicycle repair and air station and other green touches that set it apart from similar garages.
4: Dog racing comes to an end
A 75-year run of live dog racing at Sarasota Kennel Club came to a close. While the facility’s card room remains open for live gaming and off-track betting, the track was silenced.
4: Digging their work
The 47th annual Amateur Sand Sculpture Contest brought beach enthusiasts to Siesta Key to dig and watch. The free event was sponsored by Sarasota County, Friends of Sarasota County Parks and the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce.
19: A half-century of service
Morton’s Market, run by Todd and Eddie Morton, celebrated 50 years in business as one of Sarasota’s most popular grocery stores.
23: Pomp and circumstance
More than 1,500 high school seniors took the next step with graduation ceremonies at Sarasota High, Riverview High, Booker High and Cardinal Mooney High.
25, 27: The ultimate sacrifice
A parade and a ceremony of remembrance took place on Memorial Day to honor those who lost their lives in the service of our country. At Sarasota National Cemetery, tributes were paid at Patriot Plaza. Two days later, a parade down Main Street returned after a cancellation a year previous because of forecast bad weather.
26: Pay and park
Parking meters and pay station kiosks began appearing along Main Street and the courthouse area in anticipation of launch of service in July. Devices were first installed along upper Main Street and Ringling Boulevard near the courthouse. They later were set up farther east.
27: More bars for the city
No, it’s not an odd artistic tribute to the cotton swab. Those stealthy looking poles going up around town are small-cell towers, designed to deliver better user experiences and someday the next generation of cellular service.
19: Captains courageous
Cardboard, water and paddles added up to another round of annual fun at the third annual Rock the Boat Regatta, sponsored by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Sarasota County. Kids, teens and area CEOs competed in their own classes in a race that emphasized not sinking over sheer speed.
25: YMCA fitness centers closing
Sarasota Family YMCA, facing losses approaching $2.5 million over the last two years of its operation, announced in July it was less than two months away from closing its two fitness center branches. Federal tax documents showed a loss of $1.6 million in 2017 and about $900,000 the year before. The announcement touched off a grassroots effort called Save Our Y that pulled together partnerships that took over operation of the fitness centers in September.
5: Learning more about the Y
A crowd estimated at more than 1,000 attended a town hall-style meeting designed to provide answers about the impending closure of the Sarasota Family YMCA’s two fitness centers and float ideas on how they might be saved. Not long after, a partnership between Save Our Y, a charter school looking for a home and a community finance group came together, taking control of the Y operations.
The area’s only real threat from a hurricane this season came when Dorian approached Florida from the Atlantic Ocean, with various long-range tracks raising concerns among residents and emergency planners. Officials opened sand-bag stations in anticipation of possible flooding rains. But in the end, Dorian swung north along the east coast after dealing a devastating hit to the Bahamas.
13: Another chapter coming
As she prepared to step down from her post as library director, we chatted with Sarabeth Kalajian, about her 35 year career with the county. She told us her one of her favorite memories was the day she encountered a man who was applying for a job but had limited computer skills. She said she sat with the man, showed him a few basic skills and then learned later he had been called back for an interview. “I was really cheering for him,’’ she said.
3: Going for the gold
Southside Elementary was a sea of gold for its annual fundraiser designed to raise awareness of childhood cancer. After losing classmates Benji Gilkey and Avery Rann, the school embarked on an annual Go Bold, Go Gold campaign. It raised nearly $11,000 in 2019.
10: Neighbors stand together
Arlington Park neighbors stood together in seeking a plan from the city before leaders agreed to boost density in their neighborhood. The request followed two proposals for development that attracted opposition.
31: School officers settle in
A few months into Sarasota County Schools’ plan to launch its own police force on every campus in the district, officers began settling into their new roles as protectors and mentors. School district police officers now work at every elementary, middle and high school and say each level poses a different challenge.
5: Selby plan is rejected
Months of discussions, recommendations, demonstrations and more came down to a 3-2 vote by the City Commission to deny a key portion of Selby Gardens’ proposed master plan, rejecting the bayfront attraction’s plan to redevelop its 14.7 acre property. Those opposed pointed to the plan’s parking garage and rooftop restaurant as bad fits in a largely residential neighborhood. Supporters of the plan said the remake was critical for the nonprofit to move forward with a sustainable plan for the years ahead.
16: Sand sculptors make their marks
Professional artists came to Siesta Key for the 10th annual Crystal Classic sand sculpting event. About $15,000 was on the line in categories such as team, solo and sculptors’ choice.
19: Superintendent offers to quit
Sarasota County Schools Superintendent Todd Bowden, under fire for his handling of a harassment investigation that led to the resignation of the district’s chief operating officer, offered to resign with some key conditions after School Board members notified him of sanctions to come in December. Ultimately, the school board accepted his offer to step down, placing him on administrative leave for the rest of the year, paying severance and reimbursing him for legal expenses.
28: Lights aren't that pleasing
A group of neighbors in Golden Gate Point are hoping to reach a compromise with state transportation officials over the new, decorative lighting on the city’s iconic Ringling Bridge. The LED system, which changes color, is too bright and features hues that don’t work well with the architecture of the span, they said.
29: Candidate pulls out of commission race
Martin Hyde, a candidate for city commission, said he was withdrawing from the race after reports of a pair of altercations surfaced in which Hyde was accused of making racist comments. He denied the accusations of racism.
5: Residents want a parking fix
Residents who live near St. Armands Circle are working with the city to establish a system that would allow them immunity from 1-hour street parking rules, designed to dissuade shoppers and visitors from leaving their cars curbside in nearby neighborhoods. Residents complain that they’ve been ticketed simply for parking to allow access for visitors.
(Reporting and photos by David Conway, Brynn Mechem, Whitney Elfstrom, Samantha Chaney and Amelia Hanks)