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Roundabout construction limits access to Tamiami Trail business

The owners of Swim City on Tamiami Trail say the construction has cost them nearly 30% in sales in recent months. Detours, street closures and a closed crosswalk will continue until fall.

The Swim City store at Tamiami Trail and First Street has been plagued by roundabout construction for more than a year. (Photo by Andrew Warfield)
The Swim City store at Tamiami Trail and First Street has been plagued by roundabout construction for more than a year. (Photo by Andrew Warfield)
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As construction of the roundabout at U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue advances toward  completion, few can be happier about the fall grand opening than businesses along Tamiami Trail and at a handful of intersections that have been closed for weeks and will continue to be for weeks to come.

Among them are owners of Swim City, whose location at the corner of U.S. 41 and First Street is at ground zero of road reconstruction activity, which not only restricts vehicular traffic onto the driveway on U.S. 41 but also pedestrians, who make up a large portion of the retailer’s business, from hotels across the street.

Nick Johnson and his mom, Judy, who own and operate two Swim City locations in Sarasota, along with locations in Longboat Key and St. Petersburg, have experienced periodic driveway closures and that of the pedestrian crosswalk for months as construction continues. The situation is further exacerbated by a popular navigation app that incorrectly indicates the entire block of First Street — where the store has a second driveway into its parking lot — is closed from Tamiami to Cocoanut Avenue.

The result, say the Johnsons, has been a drop in sales at one of their highest-volume stores.

“Last month, we were down more than 25%,” Johnson said. “This year our March traffic was down by 29% from the previous month. It's definitely caused quite a big dip in traffic and sales.”

Those sales figures may have been worse, he said, if the project had shut down the northbound lanes’ direct access to the store in season.

“We were very grateful that they decided to work on the Ritz-Carlton side first and then went to our side when the season slows down,” he said. “This is pretty much the best time to do something like this. After the Fourth of July, things slow down for us, but this store is one of our best stores and we’ve seen more of a decrease in sales than our other stores. It’s concerning, but we attribute most of that to this construction.”

Swim City isn’t the only victim of the project. Joey D’s restaurant closed its location at 211 N. Tamiami Trail in early July, its owner telling the Sarasota Herald-Tribune the closure was the result of lingering effects of the pandemic exacerbated by the construction.

The Johnsons complained that signage promise by FDOT directing traffic to Swim City’s First Street driveway had not been installed. During last week’s monthly roundabout project update virtual meeting, Project Engineer Pinky Pakalapati blamed the delay on supply chain issues.

“As you all are aware, there are material shortages,” he said. “It's taken a little bit longer for those signs to be fabricated, but it's my understanding that they're scheduled to be installed before the end of the month.”

In the interim, the city has allowed Swim City to use feather flags and other temporary signs during construction.

Since the crosswalk near the store closed, walking to the store now requires hotel guests to head a quarter-mile north to cross U.S. 41, then traverse back south through the construction zone.

“That’s what I think has affected us the most over the past year. That crosswalk that has been gone was what brought much of the traffic from the Westin and the Ritz-Carlton. They actually had shuttle services that would run to our store because things got so kind of chaotic when the construction started.”

Much of the construction between Palm Avenue and Second Street is related to drainage. To accommodate the work, northbound traffic on U.S. 41 was shifted, closing driveways and street access on the east side of the road through the three blocks. Officials with FDOT have said that situation will persist through project completion, which is scheduled for late fall.

Meanwhile, Pakalapati said one of Swim City's entrances will remain open at all times, but it may switch occasionally. Last week, work encroached on the driveway off First Street, temporarily opening access off U.S. 41.

"They had the Tamiami entrance open for a bit last week while working on First Street, but now First Street is open again and Tamiami is closed," Johnson said. "All of this back and forth with one entrance open one day and another entrance open the next day is very confusing and frustrating for both our employees and our customers."


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