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Sarasota Friday, Apr. 12, 2019 5 months ago

Sarasota's overall strategy: Whack-a-mole!

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Monday’s City Commission meeting agenda — with votes on the Bay Park and Fruitville Road — illustrates a helter-skelter strategy, which is no strategy. Table the Fruitville Road vote.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

Perhaps it’s just our cynicism toward government, and the Sarasota city government in particular. But if you step back and assess the bigger picture of what’s happening near downtown Sarasota, Monday’s Sarasota City Commission meeting actually provides a great illustration of how a downtown resident described the city’s overall operating strategy:

Whack-a-mole.

On Monday’s agenda are two items that can and will change the city for generations to come, and they are two items that will have connected consequences. And yet, it appears they will be forwarded  without consideration of the consequences on each item or the consequences they will have on other major city decisions to come.

Matt Walsh

Indeed, what is the city’s overall strategy — other than that of jumping from one mole hole to the next?

Let’s break down the two items on Monday’s agenda:

• One is the proposed partnership agreement between the city and the Bay Park Conservancy. We voiced our support for that partnership on April 9, with the belief the future of those 53 acres of city bayfront will be better off under the control and management of the non-profit Bay Park Conservancy than under the thumb of the City Commission.

There still are details to be addressed, the biggest concern we’ve heard from those who have read the proposed agreement is how much of a financial burden will be put on city taxpayers.

• The second big item on the agenda is whether to approve a plan to shrink Fruitville Road from four lanes to two lanes in a segment between U.S.  301 and Tamiami Trail. That’s what City Manager Tom “Pedestrian Friendly” Barwin, the city staff and a few downtown constituent groups want.

Those two items may seem disparate and unconnected, but now put the rest of the puzzle pieces together:

What happens if the Bay Park Conservancy and Van Wezel Foundation’s visions come to fruition?

A view of Cincinnati's Fountain Park before its redevelopment.

What happens if the bayfront park becomes a center of constant activity, similar to what has occurred, say, at Cincinnati’s Fountain Park? What happens if the Bay constantly draws residents and visitors in cars?

What happens on that stretch of Fruitville that is shrunk to two lanes? More, longer backups? To avoid the slowdowns, will motorists find other ways out of the park through the Rosemary District and nearby neighborhood streets?

The city staff will be telling city commissioners Monday that its consultants are recommending a two-lane Fruitville because it will “provide similar corridor travel times, better intersection operations, more improvements to north-south traffic flow and conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists and a safer overall design.”

But now go a few more steps into the future:

What will happen when the second Ritz Tower condominiums, The Auteur condominium next to the Hyatt Regency, the Blvd condominium, the remainder of Greenpointe Holdings’ 14-acre Quay development and a new Sarasota Performing Arts Hall all are developed — on top of what already exists?

How will future roundabouts at Gulfstream and Tamiami Trail and Fruitville and Tamiami Trail handle all of the residents, park goers, service vehicles and travelers and residents from the barrier islands?

What would happen, say, if there was a serious pedestrian-multiple car accident at Fruitville and Orange in the height of season?

Have you heard anyone from City Hall address this bigger picture? Not likely. There are too many moles being whacked to make sense of it all.

Make the list:

• The Bay Park Conservancy

• Narrowing Fruitville Road

• Multiple roundabout construction on north Tamiami Trail

• Bobby Jones Golf Club renovation

• The Lido Pavilion

• Big Pass dredging lawsuits

• St. Armands Circle garage

• St. Armands Circle parking meters

• St. Armands Circle toilets

• Downtown parking meters

• City parks taxing district

• Implementing form-based code

• Lift Station 87

• And let’s not forget these important initiatives: Tom Barwin’s sustainability priorities to outlaw plastic straws and polystyrene food containers.

Whack! … Whack! … Whack!

In most businesses, there’s a limit to what organizations can take on at once and achieve at high levels. Leaders and managers often refer to this as their span of control. Talk to CEOs, and they know their company and employees’ capacity for multiple major projects at once. If they take on too many, bad things happen, or at best you get mediocre results.

What’s more, these CEOs know their associates perform best when they know the expectations — what the end result is expected to be and what steps they need to take to get there.

A vision. A strategy. And a plan.

When the Sarasota city commissioners convene Monday, it would be comforting and give taxpayers hope if one of them would have the courage and sense to say: “Wait a minute. What’s the vision here? What’s the strategy? What’s the overall plan?”

And it would be even better if the commissioners also would agree not to do anything about narrowing Fruitville Road now — not until there is more clarity and experience on what the consequences will be after the installation of the roundabouts at Fruitville and U.S. 41 and Gulfstream and U.S. 41.

If you think how the downtown will continue to evolve, you can picture the day when those one-story retail stores on the south side of Fruitville Road one day will give way to taller buildings. Perhaps when that trend is about to begin what to do about Fruitville will make more sense.

Table the narrowing of Fruitville Road.

  

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