Raising awareness of Sarasota’s sound regulations has been quite an experience. Initially, I hadn’t expected to receive such an outpour of emotion, whether positive or negative. But in the last five months, I’ve been called everything from a muckraker to a phony to a progressive to a snotty kid. I’ve navigated aggressive phone calls, outcries from business owners and verbal threats.
Whereas I thought most downtown merchants would support change, I learned many are afraid to publicly admit it. There is a tumultuous history regarding "sound" in Sarasota. In the past, business owners and various alliances have lost time and money attempting to change policies, leading many to believe the cause is fruitless. Still I persist; though Sarasota is a great city, I feel it could be better --- more prosperous for those seeking nightlife and employment within its limits.
With that, I believe Sarasota’s sound regulations have thwarted the city’s ability to grow. It’s not the only reason for a sagging downtown district but a major contributor.
Right now, I don’t "love" downtown. I’m not afraid to say it. There’s limited retail shopping and nightlife, and restaurants are the only significant draw. But good luck finding something to eat after 10 p.m. (Isn’t that when most people go to dinner?)
Now bear with me while I use one prime example to demonstrate just how bad things are.
We have a downtown Starbucks that closes at 9:00 p.m on weekends.
Let me repeat that.
Sarasota’s DOWNTOWN Starbucks closes at 9:00 p.m.
Where does that happen?
Even the Midtown branch is open ‘til 1 a.m.
Now, some people might not like Starbucks or even drink coffee, but there is an issue when a national chain with a huge following doesn’t feel it’s profitable to remain open after 9:00 p.m. in a downtown district. But who could blame Starbucks? There’s no foot traffic.
When I phoned downtown Starbucks about it, I received a series of phone hand-offs, leading to one employee with a comment. “There’s not enough business after 9:00 p.m. to stay open.” She hung up on me when she found out I work for This Week in Sarasota. Corporate has yet to return my call.
In the meantime, City Commissioner Paul Caragiulo has agreed to a public meeting this Wednesday, Oct. 17, to discuss the sound regulations, along with what we can do to improve current policies. (Please refer to my recent article for some examples.) Attendance at the meeting will indicate to Caragiulo and the Sarasota City Commission whether there is support for change. If there isn’t enough support, the issue will die.
Caragiulo took a few moments to speak with TWIS.
TWIS: In 2000, a state appeals court ruled that the Sarasota Noise Ordinance prohibiting amplified sound during certain hours violated the First Amendment. How has Sarasota been able to maintain the ordinance without modifications since the ruling?
Caragiulo: With the influx of a significant residential component in the downtown area, it’s curbed the opportunity for a conversation to occur. It’s been too easy not to talk about it.
TWIS: Then let’s talk about the rules. No amplified sound exceeding 65 dBA is permitted outside of a completely enclosed building between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. On Thursday through Sunday we gain an extra hour, the rule beginning at 11 p.m. How do you think this has affected downtown businesses?
Caragiulo: 65 dBA is basically ambient sound. We’re probably violating the rule right now. It’s hard to say how it’s affected downtown businesses. However, I don’t think it’s allowed the possibility for a progressive urban environment for such a sophisticated place. We’re an attractive venue, but we’re still a little austere on our urban side. In the '90s, downtown had a bohemian vibe. On a Monday night in the summer you could go to five or six places. Now, everyone’s hall pass expires at 9:30 or 10 p.m. I think that a more vibrant is a safer environment. There are more eyes on the street. The perception is the plug gets pulled at 10 p.m. I’d argue in an urban environment that’s not a desirable thing.
TWIS: Do you know of any businesses that have gone under primarily due to the noise issues?
Caragiulo: Lemon Coast was directly affected. There were a lot of complaints from Dolphin Towers. I don’t know if that’s the sole reason for the business shutting down, but it was pretty significant.
TWIS: How is it that a complaint from one person can stop 300 people from having a good time?
Caragiulo: There is minority control. It takes very few people to affect policy in Sarasota. There weren’t enough people coming to the meetings to fight the regulations.
TWIS: A major criticism of the noise regulations is that when a sound complaint is made, the sound is measured at the property line of the sound source instead of the property line at which the complaint is being registered. Could this simple change to the regulations give downtown bars and nightclubs a better chance at offering live music downtown?
Caragiulo: It’s the most significant component of the ordinance. How loud is too loud? I don’t know. I think it’s smart to look at other places that have sound regulations that work.
TWIS: In a recent city commission meeting, you stated that the noise regulations (surrounding downtown core) were not working, halting progress within the city limits. What makes you say that?
Caragiulo: I feel that the policy had not allowed the downtown to flourish in a way that I would like to see. I want to see a buzzing, vibrant environment. That’s why we’re having this conversation.
Sound Regulations Meeting
City Hall Annex Building/First Floor
October 17, 6 p.m.
1565 1st Street , Sarasota, FL 34236