City Commission candidates discuss downtown at Tiger Bay
Topics at Monday’s candidate forum included growth, paid parking, local business, noise regulations and more.
| 2:59 p.m. April 18, 2017
The two winners in May’s City Commission race will represent all of Sarasota, but at a candidate forum Monday, the three candidates shared their thoughts on how to enhance and protect the downtown district.
Several questions about downtown Sarasota came up during Monday’s Tiger Bay meeting. Moderator Morgan Bentley and those in attendance probed the candidates’ stances on topics including paid parking and the promotion of local businesses.
Asked to discuss how they would enhance downtown’s retail offerings, all three candidates honed in on homelessness as a primary issue. Attorney Hagen Brody called it an overwhelming, acute problem, and one that needed to be addressed for the well-being of downtown merchants.
Neighborhood leader Jen Ahearn-Koch and Martin Hyde agreed that homelessness needed to be a priority for the commission going forward. Ahearn-Koch also said the city should promote legacy businesses and collaborate with stakeholder groups such as the Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association.
Hyde criticized the city’s plans for a paid parking program downtown, pointing to previous failed efforts as evidence it was misguided.
“Why would you marry the same person four times?” Hyde said. “Why would you install parking meters downtown for a fourth time?”
Ahearn-Koch and Brody were also critical of the parking meters, though their opposition was softer. Brody said he thought the time was not right to institute parking meters because there are other issues that need to be addressed downtown.
Ahearn-Koch said the meters were not a solution she would have embraced, but suggested some other sort of paid parking system would be a good idea. She cited the city’s annual parking fund deficit — which has exceeded $500,000 each of the past two years — as a reason something needs to be done.
“We subsidize parking in our city,” Ahearn-Koch said.
The trio also discussed the downtown noise ordinance. Both Hyde and Brody expressed a desire to acknowledge the people who wanted a more vibrant downtown district, with Hyde criticizing downtown residents who have called for stricter regulations.
“If you don’t like noise, don’t move downtown,” Hyde said.
The three at-large candidates were the top vote-getters in the citywide March election, advancing to a May 9 runoff. The top two candidates in that election will join the City Commission on May 12.