New regulations for events at St. Armands Circle Park have been in the works for so long that Bill Kinney has had the opportunity to stand up to the status quo, back down and then remount his campaign in opposition to Circle leaders.
At a July Sarasota City Commission meeting, Circle stakeholders in attendance appeared to be on the same page as commissioners. They agreed on a series of revisions to the regulations, and asked City Attorney Robert Fournier to return the ordinance to the commission for further discussion. Little dissent arose that day.
That harmony was short-lived: Kinney is now gathering ammunition in opposition to the city’s proposed fix for the regulation of St. Armands Circle Park.
Kinney’s company, Paragon Art Festival, organized the St. Armands Fine Art Festival held April 26 and April 27. St. Armands residents and merchants opposed the timing of the event. Stakeholders argued that an events moratorium at the park, which covered “peak tourist season” and expired a week before the art festival, should be extended through April 28, so organizers would have to reschedule the event for May.
The city attorney said those overtures seemed like an effort to specifically target Kinney’s events, and he advised the commission to wait until 2015 to change the specifics of the events moratorium.
The event came and went with few complaints. Diana Corrigan, executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association, acknowledged that it went smoothly — although she said it did not help area businesses.
When the events ordinance came before the commission in July, commissioners seemed amenable to establishing a moratorium at the park from the beginning of February through the end of April. But before that could happen, Kinney re-entered the fray, challenging several aspects of the proposal.
Kinney isn’t just defending his event; he’s going on the offensive against the claims Corrigan and others made at that July meeting. He provided a 21-page package of information to Fournier earlier this month contesting the longer definition of season and Circle businesses’ claims that April is significantly busier than January. He also argues that a St. Armands Circle Association-approved event — January’s St. Armands Winter Art Festival — is more disruptive than his art festival.
He points out that county tourist development tax revenues, generated by residential rentals of six months or less, are higher in January than in April. He cites VRBO, a website for home vacation rentals, which frequently lists seasonal rates on Lido Key, St. Armands, Longboat Key and Bird Key as beginning in January. He spoke with fire department and city officials who agreed that traffic issues affecting the Circle are most significant from late December to mid-April.
In addition to the data he gathered, he believes that observationally, it’s clear that Circle leaders are overstating the issues to get the events moratorium extended.
“You’ve got to be an idiot not to know when high season ends around here,” Kinney said.
Corrigan stands by her assertion that April is busier than January — a fact she says she has confirmed with several businesses and rental agents on the Circle. Siesta Key, which has a different dynamic than the Lido area, throws off the county tourist-tax figures, she said. As the leader of an organization representing Circle businesses, she said it wouldn’t be in her interest to misrepresent the facts.
When the Paragon festival was in the planning stages, Circle leaders told Kinney that a significant parking shortage in the area was another reason they hesitated to endorse his event. Kinney contends if that’s a concern, it should be a concern regardless of the sponsor of an event or whether it’s in or out of season.
Furthermore, Kinney said, January’s Winter Art Festival had more vendors and took up more parking spaces in an area already facing a shortage, arguably hurting Circle residents and businesses more.
“(Our event) had no traffic backups,” he said. “We had no logistical issues. We had not one vehicle park in front of a residential home. Possibly, that’s what’s lacking in the Circle Association events.”
Corrigan said January events are helpful because they draw people out to the area during a slower time of the year, a boost that’s unnecessary during the busier February, March and April months.
“That (January) event does a lot for our business, whether Mr. Kinney wants to believe it or not,” Corrigan said.
Kinney believes that, if the commission approves the suggested changes to the ordinance, the Circle Association will have too much control over the events at the park, a problem he said he encountered when he originally applied to put on the art festival. Instead of having city staff exclusively manage the park, giving preference to existing events, he suggested a committee of residents, businesses and city staff could bring a better balance.
No matter what happens, Kinney is sure that when the events ordinance comes back before the commission in October, the discussion will not be as harmonious as it was the last time.
“We’re taking this very seriously,” Kinney said. “This is no longer about an event. This is about principle.”
Contact David Conway at [email protected].
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