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APRIL FOOL: Roundabout restaurant coming to Sarasota's bayfront

First-of-its-kind project designed to help traffic feature pay for itself.

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  • | 9:30 a.m. March 31, 2022
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APRIL FOOL -- A fast-food staple will become a rule of the road next fall when final touches are completed on the nation’s first roundabout restaurant.

Burbank, California-based Burgers as Art LLC announced plans last week to build its first Sarasota County location in the middle of the roundabout linking Gulfstream Boulevard, Tamiami Trail and the Ringling Causeway. Three other businesses bid on the project.

“What’s the last thing you always hear after you make a drive-through order,’’ rhetorically asked Burgers as Art CEO Wolfson T. Shaker at a news conference adjacent to the construction zone on Wednesday. “ ‘Please drive around,’ that’s what. ‘Please drive around.’ Harr, harr, harr.  It’s a case of Burgers as Art imitating life.’’

State and city officials had not by Sarasota Observer's presstime released the bids from the winning company nor the three other contenders to assure residents the decision had been made on a financial basis, not on the basis of a comedically perfect set up and punchline by the CEO.

That the decision to erect a fast-foot restaurant in one of the most highly scrutinized transportation projects in Southwest Florida history was made on any basis was the topic of a second news conference held on the steps of City Hall, two hours later.

“This is a reprehensible miscarriage of the public trust, will endanger countless lives and be a danger to driving, too,’’ said local critic of all things, Martin Jekyll. "Oh, and do you know who I am?"

Florida Department of Transportation officials defended the decision as part of a new state initiative to help public works projects pay their own way instead of “constantly tapping into the pockets of everyday Floridians who may live hundreds of miles away,’’ spokeswoman Transpo Tashun said, adding tourists and other out-of-towners are forecast to contribute at least 40% of the operation's revenue. “We can’t charge a toll there, but we can charge rent and take a little something off the top of every burger they sell.’’

 Tashun said the cost of the roundabout would likely be recouped in about 10 years.

The restaurant will offer no parking and will be accessed via the inside lane of the roundabout. Customers can veer off the roadway into the drive-through line, then drive around back into the circle on the way out to continue their travels and enjoy a meal on the go.

A limited menu will speed the ordering process, Shaker said. Staff will park offsite and walk.

Beyond the financial gain, Tashun and Shaker said there was a practical aspect not always available with every public works contract.

 “That circle is going to jam up sooner or later,’’ Tashun said. “Probably sooner. And people gotta eat.’’

In keeping with the city’s goal of adding public art to roundabouts, an architecture competition will determine the design of the restaurant. Several prominent local architects are already involved, with the project also drawing national and international attention.

Tashun said the state will be keeping a close watch on the operation of the roundabout restaurant and its revenue with an eye toward similar projects elsewhere.

Among the potential next steps:

  • NASCAR-style toll booth fuel stops;
  • Bitcoin paid-crosswalk systems;
  • Red-light camera-based portrait studios;
  • Annual subscriptions for express lanes on new or expanded highways;
  • Never-open fees for drawbridges;
  • Pay-to-play bogus SunPass bills to fool spouses into thinking you were somewhere else entirely and not on that side of town where that secretary of yours, Sylvia, lives.
  • Coin-operated street lights.

“The possibilities are endless,’’ Tashun said.


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