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Sarasota Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012 5 years ago

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Commission OKs project
The Main Street makeover that has been in the works for the last two-and-a-half years finally received approval from the Sarasota City Commission May 21, at its regular meeting. During the meeting, city commissioners unanimously approved $4.7 million worth of downtown projects, of which $1.9 million will be used for the Main Street overhaul.

The makeover included bricking the sidewalk, creating bulbouts and converted angled parking to parallel parking. In October, the DID removed parking changes from the plan.

+ Street Teams organizes
The city of Sarasota and the Salvation Army’s Street Teams effort to help the area’s homeless while cleaning up the streets began in May.

The program is designed to help volunteers build work experience and skills while they search for gainful employment. Participants enrolled in the program pick up trash in city parks, trim and weed flower beds and perform minor maintenance work such as painting.

Initially, 12 people, two teams of six, worked from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. weekdays, with one team of six people stationed downtown and the other team in Newtown. A third team of six people was expected to launch soon.

+ City discusses garage future
An agreement the city reached with Pineapple Square in 2010, when it acquired the 43,700-square-foot lot on State Street, required the city to build at least a 300-space parking garage on the site within four years.
In May, Commissioners Terry Turner and Shannon Snyder referenced a 10% average usage rate in the Palm Avenue parking garage as a reason they believed the city doesn’t need another parking garage.

The city began seeking proposals in October from prospective firms for the designing and construction of the garage and commercial space. The city has set aside $7.29 million in tax-increment financing for the project.
Local merchants have suggested turning the rooftop of the garage into a park.

+ Airport lands in the black
Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport President Fred Piccolo informed commissioners that the airport had $28 million in reserves, $100 million in fixed assets and was on schedule to pay off its remaining $9 million debt in 2014.

He also announced that United Airlines would initiate daily service between Sarasota and Chicago O’Hare International Airport effective Nov. 4.

He later announced that Delta Airlines would begin offering non-stop daily service from the airport to New York LaGuardia International Airport beginning Dec. 15.

+ Investigation on security
In May, a computer forensics investigation into the city’s Information Technology department focused on shoring up shoddy security at City Hall.

Sarasota city commissioners learned that the computer upgrades, which they spent millions of dollars in previous years, were never installed.

Sylint Group CEO John Jorgensen told the Sarasota City Commission the city’s “network security status is a great concern to us.”

+ Back taxes dispute settled
In May, a summary judgment ruled in favor of Sarasota County Property Appraiser Bill Furst’s ability to tax the surrounding property of Marina Jack not specifically listed in the 1988 agreement.

Marina Jack restaurant owner Bob Soran challenged Furst’s August 2010 decision to collect $1.5 million in taxes on the property — $300,000 for 2010 and $1.2 million for unpaid back taxes.

In July, the two-year legal battle ended with a settlement that will yield $250,000 in back taxes and a portion of future taxes for the county.

Jack Graham Inc. will not pay back taxes from 2007 through 2009, but will pay half the bill of the assessed property value from 2010 and 2011 and for the remainder of the lease that specifies it as tax exempt.

+ Group seeks donor support
The Suncoast Charities for Children Vice President Lucy Nicandri said the perception that the city of Sarasota and Marina Jack restaurant fund Fourth of July fireworks and the 2012 Super Boat Grand Prix Festival was hampering the organization’s fundraising.

Nicandri said the organization needed to raise $49,600 for the 28th annual event which took place June 23 to July 4.

Turner evaluates Nadalini
Commissioner Terry Turner submitted a charter performance evaluation for City Auditor and Clerk Pamela Nadalini in June that gave her “Below Expectations” marks in six different categories, making for a combined “Below Expectations” evaluation rating.

The evaluation was submitted less than a month after it was revealed Turner is supporting a November charter amendment that would take more responsibility away from Nadalini to give the city manager’s office more power.

Nadalini refused to sign the evaluation that listed her management skills as “Below Expectations,” choosing, instead, to write a two-page letter to Turner detailing her concerns with the low marks she received.

+ Tropical storm impacts city
Tropical Storm Debby hit the area June 25 and forced four large boats to the City Island shore, uprooted a sea grape tree in Bayfront Island Park and caused damage to an island restaurant’s dock.

Park flora was rocked by the high winds, which blew branches about and uprooted a roughly 20-foot-tall tree. The sea wall and adjacent sidewalk on the eastern tip of the park cracked during the storm and slouched into the surf; a nearby no-wake marker also was set askew.

Lift station project in limbo
Commissioners planned to hire an attorney and a micro-tunneling expert, each at a cost of $400 per hour, to look into legal ramifications involved with the stalled Luke Wood Park lift-station project.

The $9.5 million lift-station project had been sitting idle since March, when the equipment used to drill underground tunnels for new pipes was removed from the site.

City Attorney Robert Fournier said the contractor believed there was an issue with the soil and the unforeseen conditions meant the extra work was the city’s financial responsibility. The city believed some failed attempts were a result of the contractor not using the equipment correctly and digging some trenches with incorrect measurements.

+ City land attracts developers
A piece of city-owned land at a high-profile intersection was being sought by at least two developers. But, the city chose only to work with the company that offered the lowest bid for the 11.1-acre strip of land on the northeast corner of Fruitville and Beneva roads.

In July, Lakewood Ranch-based Commodore Realty offered Sarasota city commissioners $3 million for the land — the price for which the parcel was last appraised. 

However, in June the city approved the continuation of contract negotiations with Benderson Property Development to sell the land for $1.4 million.

+ Budget deficit at $3.3 million
Sarasota city commissioners began budget deliberations July 6, with the knowledge that a deficit had been cut in half from $5.9 million to $3.3 million.

Because the city of Sarasota saw a slight uptick in property values — 0.88% — instead of an expected 4% decrease, city Finance Director Chris Lyons told commissioners staff could be more flexible when making cuts to achieve a balanced budget.

Despite the news, Lyons suggested the city use $1.7 million of its $3 million budget stabilization fund to balance the $178 million budget. The fund was created in 2008 to weather the plummeting property values and hasn’t been tapped yet.

+ Caragiulo’s proposal snubbed
Sarasota City Commissioner Paul Caragiulo’s proposal to place a charter amendment on the November ballot, which would create an elected-mayor form of government, was snubbed by the majority of the commission in July.

By a 3-2 vote the commission approved Commissioner Terry Turner’s motion to table the item until the commission’s Aug. 20 meeting.

In August, the commission voted 3-2 not to place the elected-mayor proposal on the ballot after more than two hours of discussion and 31 members of the public spoke.

+ City sued for violation
Citizens for Sunshine attorney Andrea Mogensen and Public Art Committee Chairman George Haborak filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging that the steering committee held several closed-door meetings that should have been open to the public and they would not provide minutes for the meetings held. Specifically, city planner and public art liaison Dr. Clifford Smith and public-art coordinator Virginia Hoffman are being sued, along with the city.

The steering committee was charged with formulating a $55,000 interactive sculpture project downtown.
In October, the city settled the suit for $10,000.

+ Sarasota school revenues fall
Sarasota County District Schools weren’t spared from the Great Recession, with a fifth consecutive year of operating budget cuts and staff reductions included in the budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

But, despite the 686 positions cut during the last five years and $120 million slashed from the operating budget in the same period, most of the data fell by the lowest margin over the year since the housing crash. Millage rates rose for Sarasota County this year and taxable values were down less than 1% compared with last year.

Red-light cameras OK’d
The Sarasota Police Department gave the green light for the installation of red-light cameras within city limits.

In August, seven red-light cameras, located at four Sarasota, intersections, were taking pictures and video of cars that ran a red light in those locations.

All of those red-light cameras are operated by the city of Sarasota, but soon, red-light cameras will be installed by the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office in other locations, including South Tamiami Trail and Bee Ridge Road.

Sarasota Police officer John Lake warned motorists that the registered owner of a car who runs a red light is responsible for paying the $158 Notice of Violation fine, regardless of whether the owner was driving the car at that time.

+ Homeless group arrives
City police said a mandated lapse in a city trespassing program was part of the reason for a rise in a rowdy downtown homeless population.

A new group of homeless people drew the ire of downtown residents, business owners and pedestrians in August. Rumors circulated that the group of roughly 40 people, estimated to be in their 20s, accepted bus tickets to Sarasota from the city of Clearwater and other neighboring cities.

Peter Fanning, president of the Downtown Sarasota Condominium Association, said there was a concern that the group in question “is too aggressive.”

Sarasota Police Lt. Randy Boyd said the homeless issue reared its head again, because the city’s trespass program was suspended in May and wasn’t reinstituted until mid-August.

City to sell parking meters
City Parking Manager Mark Lyons said negotiations were under way with Milwaukee-based Duncan Solutions, the meter manufacturer that sold the pay stations to the city for $10,000 apiece. If a consignment agreement were reached with Duncan Solutions, it would sell the pay stations on the parking market, and the city of Sarasota would receive a portion of the sale, $1,000 for each unit sold.

The city removed the meters in March after they were in place for less than one year; they were originally installed in April 2011.

Those meters, 47 machines in total, were stowed in rows of four, the meters facing back-to-front, under the stairwell at the police department.

The city paid $470,000 for the meters.

+ New group forms
A new merchants group formed, splintering from the established Downtown Sarasota Alliance, to bring a more focused approach to issues that specifically impact downtown shop owners.

The freshly founded group, called the Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association, aims to bring more customers downtown, lobby for improvements on Main Street and represent merchants at City Hall.

Ron Soto, owner of Soto’s Optics and the informal merchant-appointed “captain” of the new group, said the problem was that the Downtown Sarasota Alliance morphed into more of a chamber-like group as opposed to a lobbying arm for merchants.

+ Two roundabouts on horizon
Two U.S. 41 roundabouts are close to getting a green light, and another eight are in the works to “round out” Sarasota’s bayfront connectivity plan.

Two multilane roundabouts on U.S. 41, at 10th and 14th streets, are close to fruition, with $11 million in funding already set aside and awaiting a green light for construction that could start as early as 2014. This pair of roundabouts would be the first two in a $100 million network that calls for eight additional circular intersections to replace traffic lights along the bayfront — a total of 10 roundabouts within a three-mile stretch of U.S. 41.

Homeless arrests continue
Police continue to make frequent arrests as part of an operation to identify and control an aggressive faction of Sarasota’s downtown homeless population. Sarasota police made 108 arrests downtown in August and September.

In September, police identified what they call the “Top 20,” a most-wanted of the most aggressive and violent of the homeless population.

Officers are focused on this group of 20 people who repeatedly break the law — the ones business owners and residents on repeatedly call the police about.

+ City scrutinizes streetcars
The city hired an engineer to conduct a $70,000 feasibility study, which is the first step in a lengthy process, to determine if the Sarasota community wants a streetcar running downtown. A public workshop is scheduled for mid-November to collect community input on the possibility of a downtown circulator — whether it would be a rubber-tire circulator, such as a bus-type trolley, or a fixed-track streetcar.

Streetcars are the more expensive option, costing $25 million to $50 million for each mile of the track.
But advocates say a streetcar in Sarasota would be much more inviting for residents and tourists to ride than a trolley or bus.

+ DiPino new police chief
Tom Barwin’s decision to hire Bernadette DiPino as the city’s new police chief was one of the first big decisions he had to make as Sarasota’s new city manager.

When Barwin narrowed the candidates, he said DiPino stood out, in large part because of her tenure as police chief in Ocean City, Md. He said she seemed “to be very proactive and embrace community outreach.”

DiPino said she believes in community policing and has asked community-policing expert David Kennedy, whom she met recently, to come to Sarasota to help the city implement changes.

Although Sarasota currently has 23 sworn women officers on a force of 174 total officers, DiPino is the first woman to lead Sarasota’s police department. Her first day on the job will be Jan. 1.

+ Bank wants benches gone
The director of a downtown bank, Elaine Karins, president of the Sarasota Municipal Employees Credit Union, sent an email to city commissioners asking the city to remove two benches near City Hall.

Karins said that bank customers began complaining last winter about homeless people who were asking for money as customers left the bank.

Karins said that on some busier days, up to six customers will come into the credit union during lunch-time hours to tell bank workers that someone had asked for money as they left the ATM.

From Sept. 24 to Oct. 24, 30 total arrests were made on First Street near City Hall involving the homeless population, said Sarasota Police Capt. Wade McVay.

+ Chief Hogle dies in motorcycle crash
Former Sarasota Mayor and Longboat Key Police Chief Albert “Al” Hogle died May 14, in a motorcycle accident.

Hogle, 63, was riding with friends on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, when he was ejected from his motorcycle after striking a tree.

Hundreds of people, including many uniformed law-enforcement officers from throughout Southwest Florida, attended his funeral May 24, during which he was eulogized as a family man and mentor to other law-enforcement officials.

Hogle’s beloved yellow Camaro ZL1 led the funeral procession to Sarasota National Cemetery, where he was buried with a 21-gun salute.

+ Tom Barwin named Sarasota city manager
Before 11 a.m. Sept. 4, Commissioner Paul Caragiulo was the 35th person — by Tom Barwin’s estimated count — that he met with on his first official day at work as Sarasota’s city manager.

Filling an economic development position, along with other economic development and job-creation efforts, is a top priority for him. Barwin would like to see an effort to attract and keep more young professionals in Sarasota. He cites an Internet-based health-and-medicine start-up in Oak Park, Ill., as a previous economic bright spot during his six-year tenure there.

+ Floridays’ hotel concept chosen
June 7, a city committee unanimously chose Floridays Development Co. to build an independent boutique hotel on the site on North Palm Avenue at Cocoanut Avenue.

The concept chosen will provide competition for the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota and the Hyatt Regency Sarasota, because it will target guests seeking a top hotel destination.

Floridays proposed building a 180-room hotel on the site.

The company agreed to pay $2.1 million for the hotel site, which was the latest appraisal of the land.

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