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St. Armands business district asks city for streetscape improvements

Trip hazards and narrow sidewalks are among the mobility issues at St. Armands Key.
Trip hazards and narrow sidewalks are among the mobility issues at St. Armands Key.
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At eye level, St. Armands Circle attracts local residents and tourists alike as a quaint, upscale seaside shopping, dining and entertainment village. At ground level and below, though, nearly every aspect of the infrastructure is showing its age with no significant updates and improvements made in half a century.

With city budget season in full swing, St. Armands Business Improvement District Board of Directors Chairman Tom Leonard appeared before the Sarasota City Commission on July 17, asking that the city embark on a $15 million streetscape project to address a number of issues, not the least of which are noncompliant sidewalk and handicapped parking conditions.

A streetscape plan was one of three options presented by city staff during an April 18 St. Armands Complete Streets workshop. The other two options are a $45 million-plus project that would address underground and surface upgrades, or to do nothing at all. Neither the complete streets nor streetscape projects are currently funded, nor is a time frame envisioned for when they might be.

“We're supposed to be the premier shopping district,” Leonard said, adding that a trip to St. Armands is the first or second thing visitors do when they arrive. “Yet we have no curbs and sidewalks that are uneven and unsafe. So we're just saying let's get something done. St. Armands has had minimal improvements over the past 50 years and is in need of immediate improvements to compete with the region's other premier shopping areas.”

The complete streets option covers the primary corridors over the entire key and includes multimodal and transit accommodations; landscaping, hardscaping and lighting; fiber connectivity; enhanced pedestrian crossings; parking reconfiguration; drainage and stormwater resiliency. 

The streetscape plan would be limited to the business district and includes multimodal and transit accommodations; landscaping, hardscaping and lighting; enhanced pedestrian crossings; curb replacement; and drainage improvements.

Commissioners offered little input about Leonard’s request for immediate relief. Vice Mayor Liz Alpert did seek clarity that commissioners were only being asked to receive the BID’s report at this time.

“This is just the board report and just accepting, OK? Because I don't agree with any of the suggestions,” Alpert said. “I think it's short-sighted for what I think is needed.”

The complete street exploration was prompted by the Florida Department of Transportation's plans to rebuild or rehab Little Ringling Bridge between Bird Key Drive and Sarasota Harbour West. Funding for both the project development and environmental study and design phases is included in the FDOT's Tentative Five-Year Work Program. The project is also included in the FDOT State Transportation Improvement Program through fiscal year 2026. Right-of-way and construction phases, though, are not currently funded.

“The complete streets plan is to connect that portion, which would include a multiuse trail, and connect it from there to all the way into St. Armands, and also look at the drainage, the resiliency factors and traffic operations around the circle and the parking situation,” said City Engineer Nik Patel. 

While the streetscape option will address cosmetic and some surface infrastructure issues, Patel said he expects some hesitancy to potentially throw good money after bad because, eventually, the underground work will become necessary. That would mean tearing up cosmetic improvements that disrupt the circle for two to three years to do it all over again.

“That's the challenge. You do this project, you spend all this money, and then the infrastructure, electrical systems and drainage cause more issues,” Patel said. “The long-term fix will have to happen, so the question is spend the money now and spend some more money later, or just spend the money now to do it completely? That's a commission decision to make.”

As a representative of the commercial property owners on St. Armands Circle, Leonard told commissioners that improvements to benefit the business district, for which the BID has set aside a contribution of $600,000, are his primary concern.

“We really are concerned with just St. Armands Circle and that's what our focus should be,” Leonard said. “That's why we're trying to do this downsized version.”



Andrew Warfield

Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

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