We’ve seen this movie so many times. Sometimes the ending changes, but up to the end, it’s always another version of “Groundhog Day.”
You know how it goes: The opening scene is a peaceful, charming community, much like Garrison Keillor’s fictional town where everyone is above average and happy.
Then along comes, ugh, the developer. He wants to build on a vacant lot. And then all hell breaks loose.
What? More traffic? More noise? Block my view? No, no, no! Our lives will be ruined! You can’t do that!
So here we go again. Groundhog Day on St. Armands Circle.
We knew the Roman candle would be ignited and spit out its first fireball as soon as we read in the May 6 Sarasota Observer that Gavin Meshad; his father, John; and Dennis McGillicuddy wanted to begin discussions about a development idea for the asphalt public parking lot behind the Met, Alvin’s and the Crab & Fin on the southeast quadrant of St. Armands Circle.
And right on cue, it did. Emails sizzled across the Ringling Bridge in the ether from St. Armands Key residents to Sarasota City commissioners, expressing concerns (in reality, opposition) to developing the parking lot.
They continued Monday night with nine speakers, including Longboat Key Mayor Ken Schneier and residents who live near or across the street from the parking lot.
There were no ad-lib departures from the script. The speakers predicted the doom of more traffic, noise, trash and delivery trucks; too much density of people; and shadows of darkness from a 45-foot-high building.
But before you take any side, we urge you to watch the presentation of the Meshads and McGillicuddy.
To begin with, all three are about as Sarasota-through-and-through as you can get — nearly life-long residents of the city; longtime, reputable property and business owners on St. Armands Circle and elsewhere; philanthropists to many local causes and not-for-profits; builders and developers of many community assets that have contributed positively to job creation and the local economy.
The point, which is often lost when the word “developer” is mentioned, is that these three citizens have had a lifelong interest in the betterment of Greater Sarasota. If anyone is to develop anything on that parking lot, you can be sure these three would want to make it a class-act project. They aren’t looking to rip off the city and run.
“What we’re here for today,” John Meshad told commissioners, “is simply to start the game with a serve and see what the community response is. We don’t want to be contentious. We’re not trying to force this on anybody. We just think the Circle is not what it used to be. We think it needs a face-lift and some injections of steroids.” (He’s right.)
Meshad emphasized the trio’s concept was just that — a concept: a 98-room, boutique hotel, a Morton’s Market (they have a letter of intent with Morton’s), six town homes, public restrooms and a 270-car parking garage. It doesn’t have to be this; it’s a starting point.
For anyone who doesn’t live next to the Fillmore parking lot, what they presented indeed would add a badly needed gemstone to the Circle.
But like any proposed development in Sarasota, it’s a long, arduous, costly, contentious road to reality. We credit the bravery and vision of the Meshads and McGillicuddy.
Let the conversation and process begin.
Footnote: There is always an easy answer to these development proposals. If the neighbors don’t want that property developed, they can stop any development forever: Buy the property themselves.