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Sarasota Thursday, Sep. 27, 2012 5 years ago

Sidewalk improvements slated


The first phase of a $1.9 million streetscape improvement including wider, brick-paved sidewalks, are coming soon to some of the busier pedestrian stretches of Main Street, specifically in front of Gator Club, Pastry Art and C’est La Vie.

This first phase of the sidewalk-improvement project comes in at a slice of the projects total cost — $150,000 of the $1.9 million total — but will alter the look of mid-Main Street and add sidewalk café space. In April, the commission reached a consensus to tentatively move forward with plans to help the DID pay for its $1.9 million Main Street project through a $1.5 million internal loan that is repayable to the city over a 15-year term.

Three parking spaces will be removed during the first phase of work, while more than 1,100 square feet of sidewalk and café space will be added to those three sections of Main Street.

Jeff Cheng, a downtown regular, looks forward to the expanded sidewalk in front of Pastry Art Café.

“I love outdoor seating,” Cheng said.

When construction will start is still undecided. Although work could begin in early October, city planners worry that might cause construction disruptions during peak tourist season in a commercial area that has seen its fare share of recent construction. City commissioners will discuss the project’s start date at their Oct. 1 meeting.

“It is cutting it close, and we would rather err on the conservative side,” said City Planner Steve Stancel.

If sidewalk improvements are not completed this fall, work will likely start in late spring, said Stancel. This first phase of the Main Street sidewalk-improvement project will take an estimated four to six weeks to complete.

Conceptual plans could change, but city planners say current renderings depict what the expanded sidewalk areas, or bulbouts, will look like. As bulbouts are constructed, lampposts will be re-painted, and brighter light bulbs will be installed in the lamps.

In front of C’est La Vie, an area of unused asphalt adjacent to parking spaces will be replaced with brick pavers to match the existing sidewalk café area in front of the restaurant.

Further west, the sidewalk and café area in front of Pastry Art will be expanded around existing trees.

The area in front of Gator Club will see the largest increase in sidewalk space, with an additional 545 square feet of pavers. A seldom-used right-turn lane on Main Street will be abandoned to make way for the expanded sidewalk.

The $1.9 million improvement project will remove a total of 12 parking spaces, including the three spaces removed during the first phase of improvements, in favor of adding wider sidewalks.

Ron Soto, owner of Soto’s Optics and president of the newly formed Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association, said he remains opposed to any sidewalk improvements that eliminate parking.

“The No. 1 problem downtown is parking,” Soto said.

Soto wants to see a parking garage on State Street built before the city moves forward with changes to Main Street that remove parking spaces.

Soto was glad, however, to hear that the city might delay construction of the first phase until the spring.

An upcoming $1.9 million project will widen sidewalks throughout the heart of Main Street, from Palm to Goodrich avenues.

The total project encompasses three phases of improvements — of which the first could begin this fall or late spring.

Overall, 12 parking spaces will be removed in favor of adding wider sidewalks on Main Street.

The largest phase of work would replace diagonal parking spaces on the north side of lower Main Street with parallel spaces, freeing up even more space for sidewalk expansion — that side will gain eight feet of sidewalk space.

The original proposal called for brick pavers on both Main Street and the sidewalks from Bayfront Drive to Orange Avenue’s historic district, along with converting angled parking to parallel parking. But, as a compromise with business owners who didn’t want to see parking disappear, the plan to change parking on the south side of Main Street was scrapped. Merchants also spoke out against the brick pavers, so that portion of the project was also removed from the plans.

By October, the city will hold public workshops to discuss the improvement with residents and merchants.
Commissioner Terry Turner said the roundabouts planned for U.S. 41 and downtown are designed to work in tandem with the sidewalk-improvement project.

“This is all part of the connectivity concept,” Turner said, “to make Sarasota a more remarkable, walkable city.”

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