For all of John Ringling’s successes in Sarasota in the early 20th century, the development of St. Armands Key wasn’t one of them.
Opened to the public in 1926, the project was quickly waylaid by a deteriorating economic climate. Although Ringling gifted the property to the city in 1928, and his work deteriorated in the following decades, his legacy still remains a touchstone for the commercial district of St. Armands Circle.
Residents in the area are also paying homage to Ringling, undertaking an effort to replicate the colored sidewalks that were a hallmark of his vision for the key. On March 21, the City Commission approved a $2,000 grant to the St. Armands Residents Association, money that’s going toward sidewalk stain for interested residents.
For those living on St. Armands, a sidewalk-staining project is as much about uniformity as it is about honoring history. A poll of residents said beautification was a high priority. Julie and Kevin Bales, both board members for the St. Armands Residents Association, led the effort to focus on coloring the sidewalks.
While Ringling’s St. Armands featured pink sidewalks, the resident-led effort will focus on a red color. What’s most important, the association determined, is establishing continuity.
“A lot of the sidewalks on the island have already been stained,” Kevin Bales said. “It’s kind of a patchwork — we thought this could complete it some more.”
Thanks to the grant, the St. Armands Residents Association was able to begin filling in the gaps on the sidewalks. In addition to distributing 110 gallons of sidewalk stain last Saturday, the association set up an account at Sherwin-Williams so anyone interested in participating in the future could obtain a matching color.
“A lot of the sidewalks on the island have already been stained. It’s kind of a patchwork.” — Kevin Bales
The association also distributed information about how to properly prepare sidewalks for the stain, which typically necessitates a power-washing before the product is applied. As residents work to prep and paint their sidewalks over the next few weeks, the stain should last three or four years, Julie Bales said.
Based on the interest so far — more than a dozen residents were able to obtain sidewalk stain last week — she believes the neighborhood is supportive of the project. She’s hoping even more people get on the bandwagon as the staining begins in earnest, creating a uniform look for the residential area on St. Armands.
“I got emails saying, ‘Oh, we’ve been wanting to do this, but we didn’t know where to get the product,’” Julie Bales said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of interest from people in the neighborhood.”
Although the neighborhood association contributed $1,000 of its own funding toward the project, both Julie and Kevin Bales said the sidewalk staining couldn’t have happened without the aid from the city.
“We’re feeling really appreciative of the city and their support for neighborhoods like ours — it gives us some common goals and brings us together,” Julie Bales said. “We get to know the city in the process, too, so it’s a really exceptional program.”