Despite concerns about public safety issues, last month’s St. Armands Fine Art Festival seemingly came and went without much alarm. Still, area leaders eagerly await a season absent any major events in the heart of the Circle.
In March, St. Armands residents asked Sarasota city commissioners to consider lengthening a blackout on events in St. Armands Circle Park during this year’s peak tourist season. That extension would have included the weekend of April 26, during which the St. Armands Fine Art Festival was scheduled.
Residents and commissioners argued that added congestion could pose a public safety issue if emergency vehicles needed to drive through the Circle, but City Attorney Robert Fournier said the ban would illegally target a single event. Ultimately, the commission decided not to act, waiting instead for city staff to provide a revised special events ordinance including a permanent blackout period at St. Armands Circle Park.
At a May 5 St. Armands Circle Business Improvement District meeting, St. Armands Circle Association president Diana Corrigan said the arts festival went smoothly. Unfortunately, she said, the event reinforced a need for new regulations in the park, because Circle merchants did not benefit from the added traffic in an already-congested area.
“Three of the restaurants that serve on our boards said their business was down,” Corrigan said. “It did absolutely nothing for the businesses on St. Armands Circle.”
Corrigan brought up the possibility of the BID leasing the park from the city, giving Circle stakeholders more control over the area. Fournier said that was an avenue the City Commission could pursue if it was so inclined, but that he wanted to avoid returning to an earlier system of managing events in the area.
Previously, the city had a blackout period on special events in the park from February to the middle of April, with the St. Armands Circle Landowners, Merchants and Residents group having significant input on exceptions to that ban. In practice, LMR-approved events were allowed, while others were not.
“I certainly understand why they want to have a say of what happens in the park, and I think that’s reasonable,” Fournier said. “I would stop short of giving any private organization veto power over the use of any public facility.”
BID Vice Chairman Marty Rappaport expressed some trepidation regarding a hypothetical lease of the park. Rappaport said he would like to see the revised events ordinance before assuming any additional responsibility.
“I would not agree to anything with the city until I saw what was presented,” Rappaport said. “We don’t know what we’re getting into.”
Ultimately, Fournier said, a permanent restriction on events in St. Armands Circle Park makes sense, and will be included when the City Commission discusses the new events ordinance in June. The only questions left to answer pertain to the finer details of the blackout period.
“The physical location of this park does make it unique in a lot of ways,” Fournier said. “It does make sense to have some special criteria there that don’t exist elsewhere.”
Man on the Street
Although Circle leaders have expressed the need for a ban on special events in St. Armands Circle Park, area merchants shared mixed opinions on a blackout:
“Business may not increase dramatically at all (from special events), but it brings more exposure out to the Circle. … In some respects, because of the parking, it can be difficult. A lot of times, the events people themselves have big vehicles and they take up a lot of the areas that could be open for people coming, shopping and eating in the areas.”
“It’s a good opportunity to make new customers, to attract new customers. It’s a great opportunity for us. … It’s so much better to have people around here.”
Contact David Conway at [email protected]