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Arts and Entertainment Thursday, May 24, 2012 10 years ago

Whose Park? Great Question.

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by: Anthony Paull

It’s interesting how one drip, one leak of the right story can unleash a flash flood over Facebook, causing the media to stir, petitions to circulate and the public to cry out. Who would have thought a social media outlet could scoop the traditional news sources, releasing a story about an inconspicuous "special events" meeting called to discuss the future of activities in Sarasota’s downtown core, including Five Points Park?

But on to the real question: What’s so special about such a nondescript meeting?

Several concerned citizens such as Greg Bowdish have phoned or emailed the Sarasota City Commission, including Vice Mayor Terry Turner, to ask that very question.

According to Bowdish, here’s the response.

Mr. Bowdish:

 I am unsure where you are getting your information. We have had NO conversations about banning events downtown in general and in 5 points park in particular.

We have scheduled a meeting to gather information and data about events and our event policy broadly. But, again there have been NO proposals by staff or by the public. I believe, and my sense is the commission shares my belief, that events are an important part of our downtown experience.

Regards,

Terry [Turner]

Perhaps Mr. Turner forgot the Public Commission meeting on Feb. 6, 2012, in which he stated (per the minutes) that “complaints arose from the Thunder on the Bay event; that events featuring Rock and Roll bands should not be stationed in front of the large condominiums downtown; that traditionally bands are stationed in front of the Whole Foods market and should remain there in the future; that a meeting should be scheduled with public input to discuss events.” (See Document A.)

That statement explicitly indicates his support for a significant restriction on events at Five Points Park, relegating live music to Lemon and First Street. He refers to scheduling a meeting to gather information on events. Could that be the postponed May 24 meeting? That made This Week In Sarasota wonder what exactly was supposed to be on the agenda.

An email sent from Municipal Auditorium Manager Debbie Perez to Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown entitled “Special Events Meeting Note 4/5” contained an attachment with the heading “Downtown Special Events.” (See Document B.)

This document includes many discussion topics such as how events help and/or hurt businesses, along with how events have damaged city landscaping. Perez raises many questions in the second portion of the memo, including whether or not banners or advertisements should be affixed to trees and city signs. But what about the other questions and areas of discussion?

Let's examine some:

Holiday/Business Day Block Out - Events should not close Main Street, Palm Avenue or Selby Five Points on holidays or business days other than for parades. ... Street closures particularly during President’s Day cause horrendous traffic problems on an already success driven and highly populated weekend.

I guess that would put a big damper on having another New Year’s Eve party downtown. What about closing off Main Street to have a nice green beer to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with friends? Or what about the Hanukkah service at Five Points Park? Maybe they’ll all just be memories.

Alcohol Sales At Events – Should alcohol, sold on public property, during events be sold by local restaurants and bars via special permit obtained thru the not-for-profit? This will help support our local establishments and remove the accounting responsibility from the event sponsor? Should there be a limit to alcohol sold on the street?What a kind suggestion, removing the accounting responsibility from the event sponsor. But wait. The majority of the revenue at events like the Harvey Milk Festival stem from beer sales. How would some festivals survive without that income? But then again, maybe limiting alcohol is a way to limit dancing in the streets.

Noise Ordinances Must Be Obeyed – What should noise limitations be if any? Noise can be an issue (loud bands, motorcycles etc.) particularly when crowds are large must be limited – Many complaints are registered about this issue.

Here we go again! The noise problem! Oh, those pesky bands and motorcyclists. Remind me, how much annual revenue does Thunder by the Bay bring to Sarasota? According to the 2012 Thunder By the Bay Economic Impact Study, the answer is $6.4 million. How many thousands of people attend that event? From the same source: 87,000 people. That kind of success must really cause Sarasota to suffer.

Still, the question remains, who is the group lobbying the city to enact these new restrictions? Who authored the document instigating the meeting? Things get interesting (cue the bells and whistles) in an email attachment (See Document C) that Mr. John B. Harshman of Harshman & Company, Inc. sent to Deputy City Manager Brown on April 30, 2012.

Who’s Mr. Harshman?

According to his website, “John has been a member of the Sarasota Association of Realtors Commercial Investment Division (CID) of Sarasota Board of Realtors since 1984 and served as president in 1993. In 1998 he was awarded the ‘Commercial Broker of the Year.’ Also active in local governmental and community affairs, John has served as the President of the Association of Downtown Commercial Property Owners, Inc., President of Girls Incorporated, Chairman of the Public Facilities Finance Advisory Board for Sarasota County, served on the Environmental Lands Oversight Committee, served on the Board of Directors of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and presently serves on the City of Sarasota’s Community Redevelopment Advisory Board.  John is a graduate of Leadership Sarasota.”

In other words, John B. Harshman is connected and important. In fact, he’s so important that the Deputy City Manager included many of Mr Harshman’s points verbatim in the agenda on the subject of Downtown Special Events. Apparently, the voice of one person really can make a difference. He’s not a bad guy though. He’s just trying to ensure that downtown events “adjust in form and content with the changes of our downtown.” According to his thesis statement, “Events are a privilege not a right. A larger event is not always a better event.”

In a phone conversation with TWIS, Mr. Harshman stated the “whole effort is a way to identify issues in an effort to tweak the current policy.” He cited current problems such as festivals blocking off streets but not putting vendors on such streets. He also confirmed that no meetings regarding bans or locations have taken place.

According to the agenda request (See Document D) for the postponed May 24 meeting, “Several meetings have been held with staff and multiple outside entities to discuss the [special events] subject.” The request goes on to say, “Based on input and feedback from the meeting attendees, staff is prepared to provide recommendations on several of the items listed.”

So is it important for you to attend the rescheduled meeting on June 6th? Does your one voice count? That depends. Would the City Commission hold a ‘special meeting’ if you wanted to make changes to the downtown core?

Oh, well. Who am I to ask?

According to Facebook, I’m just one writer, here to spread rumors.

Special City Commission Meeting

Subject: ‘Zoning Enclaves and Special Events’

Sarasota City Hall

1565 1st Street, Sarasota, FL 34236

June 6, 2012

3:00 pm.

- Anthony Paull is a syndicated columnist, author and filmmaker. His first novel Outtakes of a Walking Mistake is available now.

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