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Longboat Key Wednesday, Mar. 28, 2012 10 years ago

St. Armands focuses on parking garage

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

Both the St. Armands Business Improvement District and the St. Armands Landowners Merchants and Residents Association are ready to work together to bring a parking garage to St. Armands Circle.

At a March 22 LMR meeting at City Hall, those in attendance set the stage for future discussions for a new garage, the burying of power lines and a new welcome sign for St. Armands Key.

The three projects, Circle officials say, are the last major capital improvement projects for the Circle.
But BID Chairman Marty Rappaport says a multi-story parking garage next to the Circle fire station with complimentary valet service is the priority.

“It’s so busy right now on the Circle, we are actually losing customers because they can’t find a parking spot and decide to just keep moving,” Rappaport said.

Rappaport urged Sarasota Vice Mayor Terry Turner, who attended the LMR meeting, to reconsider building the Circle garage before a State Street garage, which is slated to be built in the first quarter of 2015, per an agreement with Pineapple Square. Pineapple Square gave the lot back to the city on the condition that a garage is built in its place within four years.

“Parking on the Circle has had a shortage for five years while parking downtown is more geared toward the future,” Rappaport said. “As a last resort, is there any way we could build two garages at the same time?”
Turner said there’s no way a Circle garage could be built first or along with the other garage.

Although the city has pegged a Circle garage as a future goal and objective for upcoming budget discussions, Pineapple Square officials have told Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown it will not allow the city to get out of its obligation to build the garage by 2015.

“I understand your concern,” said Turner, who explained that the State Street surface parking lot right now only hovers at a 20% usage rate and a new garage with more parking spaces would probably drop the garage’s usage rate to 7%. “I recommended delaying it, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”

The money earmarked for the State Street garage can’t be used to build a garage on the Circle.

The comments didn’t deter LMR attendees, who scheduled a more in-depth discussion on the feasibility of a Circle garage for its April 26 meeting.

Rappaport said he’s also been in contact with Congressman Vern Buchanan’s office to try and secure federal funds for burying power lines underground.

The BID will also discuss at its next meeting a concept to designate $5,000 toward a Ringling College of Art and Design contest that would attract students to design a new welcome sign for the Key.

“St. Armands deserves a prestigious sign,” Rappaport said. “We think Ringling students could come up with something that looks great and is out-of-the-box.”

Those in attendance raved about the Circle’s new medians and said the Circle’s new park-like atmosphere has attracted more shoppers to the area.

The $450,000 median project installed sidewalks along the Circle’s four medians, which were landscaped and include new benches.

“If we can get those power lines out and build a garage, what a statement that will make,” Rappaport said.
Both the DID and the LMR believe those final capital improvements will vault the Circle from a top-five destination shopping center to the No. 1 destination shopping center in the country.

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