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Issues to Watch 2014: Circle retail

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  • | 5:00 a.m. January 8, 2014
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For Marty Rappaport and the St. Armands Business Improvement District, 2014 could be the year a growing problem is finally addressed: restaurants.

Rappaport has led the charge against what he believes to be a problematic number of restaurants occupying the retail space on St. Armands Circle. Rappaport points to a consultant’s 2005 report that said the growing presence of restaurants could harm the district’s reputation as a shopping destination.

Now, the focus on addressing this subject has again begun in earnest. Over the past several months, the BID has discussed its options for managing the tenant mix on the Circle to reduce the number of eating establishments going forward.

Since the summer, members of Sarasota’s Downtown Improvement District board have claimed a similar problem exists downtown. In October, a joint meeting of the BID and DID saw both groups agree that some action needed to be taken, and that a consultant should be brought in to evaluate whether there really were too many restaurants downtown. Both groups agreed it was a pressing issue.

“If downtown or St. Armands turns into a giant food court, they’re going to lose their vibrancy,” Rappaport said.

City staff members have pointed out some of the challenges the two boards face. Property-rights laws make it difficult to place restrictions on property owners, and the general public would have to get behind any restaurant-reduction efforts if the City Commission were to ultimately approve them.

Downtown Economic Development Coordinator Norman Gollub has become partially responsible for overseeing this issue, and he’s encouraged both boards to take a holistic approach to gauging whether a problem exists. Gollub has been working toward identifying an optimal balance of businesses in major areas in the city — including St. Armands Circle and downtown — and recommended the BID and DID fold their efforts into his.

In December, Gollub took a public step toward trying to quantify whether there was a problem within these districts. Gollub invited residents to respond to a 16-question survey about downtown business, including questions regarding the tenant mix.

In the first months of 2014, the city will hire a consultant to help complete Gollub’s study regarding the retail mix in St. Armands Circle and downtown. That study should be completed — with recommendations for implementing its findings — in March or April, Gollub said.

For all parties involved, the matter is particularly urgent this year, because a major source of competition in the form of The Mall at University Town Center is scheduled to open in October.

“Understanding the shopping habits and preferences of the community is an important first step to downtown planning, especially as regional competition continues to grow,” Gollub said.

The St. Armands Circle Business Improvement District and Downtown Improvement District boards have both expressed an interest in limiting the amount of retail space that restaurants occupy in each district.
Players: The St. Armands BID, the DID, Downtown Economic Development Coordinator Norman Gollub
Timeline: A report on the city’s tenant mix should be finalized by March or April

Contact David Conway at [email protected]



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