Many tourists to the area like visiting the beaches or “Unconditional Surrender” to snap selfies of their vacation, but they may soon have another photo-op.
Commissioner Mike Moran began informal discussions with Benderson Development Co. to explore the idea of the company donating or leasing land to the county so it can construct a welcome monument along Interstate 75.
Moran pointed to the St. Petersburg’s seven-story Gateway Welcome Tower along Interstate 275 as an example. The tower was constructed in 2012 ahead of the Republican National Convention, held that year in Tampa.
Though he said he’d like for it to be located near the interstate, Moran was open to varying design concepts.
“Who knows what it would look like?” Moran said. “More creative people than I will come about with some creative ideas.”
Moran proposed the monument be placed along I-75, between the exits at University Parkway and Fruitville Road.
Commissioner Christian Ziegler said he was in favor of the project, particularly the location.
“I love the idea,” Ziegler said. “It would be awesome if we could incorporate something where people could drive up, park, walk up and take pictures with it.”
With approval from the rest of the board, Moran said he will bring the idea to the Visit Sarasota board, of which he is a member.
Visit Sarasota is responsible for the blue water tower that sits along I-75 near the Fruitville Road exit that encourages motorists to “Visit Sarasota County.” The water tower was painted ahead of the 2017 World Rowing Championships held at Nathan Benderson Park.
County Administrator Jonathan Lewis said about four years ago county staff also brainstormed several ideas for entry features to all major entry points to the county. The public works and communications department made several design concepts, but the project never came to fruition.
The city of Sarasota in January 2020 attempted a similar project to add a gateway sign along U.S. 41 and Main Street welcoming residents downtown. However, fearing the sign could feel like artificial placemaking, city leaders abandoned the idea.
Lewis said he would circulate previous ideas so the commissioners would have a starting point on the potential project.
Moran said if the welcome monument moves forward, the county could consider opening a creative design competition to the arts community and students at Ringling College of Art & Design.
“Obviously we’d want input from the community and such,” Moran said. “But they were more than willing to have a conversation about it. They were excited for it and very supportive.”
Chair Al Maio said he also was in favor of the project, so long as it followed Florida Department of Transportation regulations for breakaway signs and signs in the right of way. Breakaway signs consist of a sign support post, an anchoring post and a breakaway component designed to lessen the impact to a vehicle.
Maio said any potential monument would have to follow regulations for safety and so the county could continue receiving FDOT funds.
“This is all stuff that can be sorted out because others have sorted it out,” Maio said.