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 Monday, 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.
For the most part, downtown merchants are pleased with the downsized project that was approved after they successfully lobbied the Downtown Improvement District not to do a larger-in-scope project that originally called for bricking Main Street.
But Patrick’s Restaurant and Tavern owner Jim Sullivan said every merchant is still “real nervous.”
“Closing any portion of Main Street for any portion of time is detrimental for our businesses,” Sullivan said. “Improvements are necessary to keep up with the times, but the less restrictive the projects can be on our businesses, the better.”
The businesses in the 1300 block of Main Street, which will be affected by the majority of the construction — including bricking the sidewalks — are even more concerned.
“I realize this project is part of downtown growing, but we are sick of downtown being torn up,” Tom Friend, owner of Friend’s Jewelers, said.
Ron Soto, owner of Soto’s Optical Boutique, said only the restaurants near his store are looking forward to wider sidewalks and the elimination of angled parking.
“We are filled with mom-and-pop shops downtown, and this continuing construction headache is going to drive those shops out of business,” said Soto.
Commissioner Shannon Snyder and others expressed concern about a project they know has merchants worried.
“This community has had enough of the construction and the schedule seems a bit too aggressive,” Snyder said. “It seems rushed.”
Commissioner Paul Caragiulo agreed, noting that the Ringling Boulevard roundabout construction hurt numerous Burns Square businesses.
Sensing downtown merchant concern, commissioners approved the project Monday with one stipulation offered by Vice Mayor Terry Turner: Commissioners must sign off on projects before they start to monitor construction timelines and make sure they don’t coincide with season and affect Main Street business.
“We have to be very sensitive to the business disruptions construction projects cause in the community,” Turner said.
Turner’s motion was approved unanimously, prompting those in attendance to applaud.
At a workshop last month, commissioners had tentatively agreed to the list of six downtown projects. The projects will be financed through tax-increment financing (TIF) dollars (see sidebar). The $1.9 million Main Street project, though, will be paid back by the Downtown Improvement District through a $1.5 million internal loan, repayable to the city at a rate of 3.5% interest over a 15-year term.
“It became apparent during a past workshop the commission didn’t want a bond or to go into debt with this project,” said senior city planner Steve Stancel. “Staff found enough money to utilize dollars to front the majority of the project’s costs, but the DID is paying the city back for the project.”
The DID already approved the $1.9 million Main Street project and was willing to pay for almost half of the project’s costs to let the commission know it’s serious about doing the project during difficult budget times.
DID Chairman Ernie Ritz said the project was vetted for two-and-a-half years through a series of public meetings.
“This project is a long time coming,” Ritz said.
If all goes well, a $236,000 Palm Avenue streetscape project and Main Street renovations from the Five Points roundabout to Orange Avenue that involve three bulbouts can be done this summer.
Then, in the summer of 2013, the largest renovation and construction of Main Street could occur when plans call for bricking the sidewalks, creating additional bulbouts and adding parallel parking to the north side of the street from U.S. 41 to the Five Points roundabout. Improvements to Main Street would fill in the gaps up to Goodrich Avenue.
Update: Work on the Main Street project begins this summer.