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Disheartening demise

The St. Armands BID did a lot of good. But now that it’s gone, new leaders needs to fill the void.

  • Longboat Key
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What a shame. Thirty years of passion, relationship building, consensus building, compromise and improvements to St. Armands Circle — all an incalculable contribution to making a rough diamond a jewel for the city of Sarasota — and now a big part of all that is crumbling to a disheartening demise.

We’re speaking of the dissolution two weeks ago of the St. Armands Business Improvement District and of the efforts of its founder, Marty Rappaport. For 30 years, from 1987 to 2016, Rappaport was a St. Armands Circle property owner, leading advocate and visionary. 

Through his and the efforts of Diana Corrigan, former executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association, the two founded in 2001 the St. Armands Business Improvement District, the taxing district whose funds have been reinvested in Circle improvements and marketing. Rappaport served 14 years as chair of the BID, retiring in 2016 after a long list of accomplishments.

When we saw Rappaport last week after news spread of the BID’s demise, you could see the disappointment in his eyes and hear it in his voice. 

All that work. Poof!

It may be difficult for people not associated with St. Armands Circle to understand the gravity of this, but it is a big loss for the city. If the BID is not resurrected, its demise likely will send one of Sarasota’s leading tourist attractions and economic engines back where it was before the BID — back to a shopping district that was scruffy, tired and in need of a major makeover.

Back then, the upkeep of the Circle — sidewalks, trash, streetscapes — fell to the city. And you know what that means. Try as government might, its efforts did not live up to the standards needed to keep St. Armands Circle a premier destination.

But when Rappaport and Corrigan persuaded Circle property owners to take on an additional two-mill tax levy, that provided a dedicated source of cash to be reinvested for continuous, high-level upkeep and improvements.

With the BID’s demise, that cash and level of service will disappear.

From a distance, then, you have to ask: Why would the St. Armands Circle property owners dissolve the one mechanism that can be used in their own self-interest to keep the Circle moving forward?

It’s a complicated story that revolves around conflicting personalities and motivations among every group involved — BID board members, Circle property owners, St. Armands Circle Association board members, Circle business owners, board members of the Lido Key and St. Armands residents associations; St. Armands and Lido Key residents; and Sarasota city officials.

When you talk to people in these groups, they all have stories of where things went wrong; who did this; who didn’t do that. On top of that, you have 63 property owners, many of whom are withered with rising costs and skyrocketing insurance rates.  

But in short, the story goes like this: When people and groups are not in alignment, success is all but impossible, failure inevitable.

Which brings us back to BID founder Marty Rappaport. 

When Rappaport invested in property in 1987 on St. Armands Circle, he had just retired as a self-made entrepreneur who had built a 500-employee dry-cleaning business in New Jersey. He was the type-cast entrepreneur: Driven, visionary, quick to make his own decisions, do things his way. 

But as a St. Armands landowner, Rappaport learned and evolved. He learned that if St. Armands Circle was to move forward, it would need consensus and alignment of all stakeholders — landowners, merchants, residents and City Hall.

He constantly built and nurtured relationships. He always looked for ways by which everyone could benefit. He learned to be patient. He did not put his interests first. He looked at each project: Will it benefit the community?

That’s missing and has been.No one stands out as a glue to hold the St. Armands stakeholders together. Invested leaders are needed who can build trusting relationships and alignment. 

Be sure of this: St. Armands Circle will not move forward without a unified effort. This is one of those times when historical roots can provide a bridge. The St. Armands Circle Association can and should play that role. 

A strong, vibrant, improving St. Armands Circle is crucial to the economic health of the region.



Matt Walsh

Matt Walsh is the CEO and founder of Observer Media Group.

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