Thursday, March 31, 2005

Conference Center Cost

In today's S-H-T, an article about the latest cost estimate for Sarasota's new downtown police station indicates it has increased significantly since the initial estimates were made about 2 years ago.

Todays estimates are $200 to $230 per sq ft, compared to $130 to $150, two years ago. This is an increase of about a little over 50% on a square footage basis.

Applying a similar escalation to the estimated conference center building cost of $55M, shows that today the conference center costs might approach $82M. The original estimate of the conference center cost was developed by CS&L (the consultant) in mid-2003.

Rapidly rising building costs are a factor in Florida and around the country. Any conference center proposal needs to take into consideration todays cost reality.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Duany example of an excellent street.

An Excellent Street

An exerpt from the Downtown Master Plan developed by Andres Duany:

"An excellent frontage is one that provides a high level of positive stimulus and interaction for the pedestrian. Buildings form a continuous edge, generally up against the outer edge of the rightof-way, with large expanses of glass for pedestrians to see what is happening inside, and a constant sense of give-and-take between inside and outside. In an ideal setting, the bay width of the buildings along the street is relatively narrow, with a range and variety of stores, shops and other uses filling these bays. Restaurants and other uses might spill out onto the sidewalk creating open-air cafes, galleries and other attractions. Landscaping is prevalent, but does not dominate the setting, and does not prevent the pedestrian from getting close to the buildings, storefronts and display windows."

The picture (Sarasota's Main St) above is also from the Master Plan and is titled "Example of an excellent street frontage". Note the trees, the covering provided by the awning/gallerie, and lack of an arcade reaching to the curb. It makes for a very inviting street.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

A Vision for Sarasota

The conference center proposal and a recent Letter to the Editor in the Sarasota Herald Tribune indicate a gulf between the business community and the residents in Sarasota.

The business community believes that continued development, more visitors and growth are the best of all possible worlds. A conference center, a redeveloped Quay with 3 high rise condos and a large retail complex, another condo just south of the Ritz, a new condo next to the Renaissance, and a boutique hotel near the Renaissance would all add up to a wonderful Sarasota - teeming with money spending visitors.

Many of us question this vision. Is this amount of growth on this short section of US 41 really going to be the answer to our problems? Or will it create a huge new problem that will never be resolved without further bridges and roads?

Save Our Saraosta believes that we need to take a step back and look at the ramifications of the projects already in the pipeline as well as the new changes that will result from the downtown code change.

Do we really understand the seasonality implications of the new condo construction? When will traffic be so bad that our base economic strength, the retirement community, will decide Sarasota is no longer worth the hassle? Can we continue to expect service workers to drive 50+ miles each way to work in face of rapidly rising gasoline costs, because we have not found solutions to the housing cost problems faced by residents and would be residents? Have we invested enough in our infrastructure to handle drinking and waste water problems? Will the water quality of Sarasota Bay decline with the added population and cars?

The answer is not "market forces will take care of it". Many residents subscribe to a vision that would keep Sarasota's small town atmosphere. This is what brought all of us here in the first place. Seemingly uncontrolled growth is not acceptable to many of us. We need to take a step back, address all the issues we face now, then determine how we can manage growth at a level we can all live with.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Former location of the Gold Tree at the 1350 Main construction site.

Crew planting Gold Tree at new location on Gulfstream Ave.

Applause, Applause!

Today a Gold Tree was moved from the construction site of the 1350 Main St project, to a vacant spot along Gulfstream just north of the Main & Gulfstream intersection. While it is not yet known whether this tree will survive, we heartily applaud the effort to make this happen.

Thanks to the City, the Public Works Dept, the Code Enforcement Dept and the developer for efforts to save this tree and find a suitable spot where hopefully it will continue to provide beauty for all to enjoy!

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Conference Center on the Bayfront Underwater?

It appears that the City Commissioners have heard the public voices that say the proposed conference center should not be located on public bayfront land. Today, our commissioners indicated that the Cultural District is not the place to put a conference center. We applaud this decision.

This land is one of the last great places in Sarasota. Residents and visitors continue to appreciate the unique characteristics that Sarasota is known for: cultural activities within a beautiful, small town, waterfront community.

Saving our last public waterfront land for all of us to enjoy should be at the top of our elected officials' priority list.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Conference Center Issues

Save Our Sarasota steering committee member, Richard Clapp, participated in a forum at a luncheon meeting of the Downtown Partnership today. Tim Clarke (Chamber of Commerce) and Sharon Cunningham (Convention and Visitors Bureau) also participated. Clarke and Cunningham spoke in favor of the Conference Center proposal, while Clapp spoke against using public dollars to fund the proposed center on public land.

The proposed center would require an increase in the tourist tax to fund the building and use of TIF dollars to fund a parking structure. No private investment is included. The conference center would occupy about 25% of the "Cultural District" land area south of Payne Terminal. This would significantly reduce space available for the identified cultural uses as well as forever destroy one of the few remaining great places in Sarasota.

Clapp pointed out that great cities - Sarasota is a great city as we all know - have a strong "sense of place". Sarasota is well known for its cultural activities and its beautiful waterfront location. The "Cultural District" must enhance our sense of place that is the vision of Sarasota. Covering over this great bayfront property with a building designed for short term, out of town people simple does not make sense. We need to keep our views of the bay open for all to enjoy. This great place needs to be saved, for this is what drew us here originally and will keep visitors coming here if it remains.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Mourners hold a wake on Main St in memory of the Black Olive Tree Family that lived at this spot.

Obituary: Main Street Black Olive Family

The four members of the Black Olive tree family were cut down Thursday, March 11, 2005.

The date of their birth is unknown. They came to Main Street in Sarasota in 1994.

Residents and visitors alike enjoyed their year round green foliage. They softened the streetscape, and provided shade, breezes and lower temperatures. They absorbed rain runoff, cleansed the air and offered nesting space for birds. They were resistant to salty air and winds.

Without pruning, fertilization or watering during the dry seasons, they thrived, and selflessly gave their lush beauty for years. They served their city loyally. They will be missed.

There are no survivors.

A memorial service was held Friday, March 18, 2005 at Palm and Main Streets. Save Our Sarasota was in charge.

Memorial donations may be made to RELEAF, SARASOTA, a not for profit, at 2620 Grafton Street, Sarasota, FL 34231.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Small Town Feeling and Urban Amenities

A city of urban amenities with small town living and feeling is the essence of what we want to preserve, promote, and enhance.

The problem is that urban amenities now are perceived as urban feeling---luxury condos and tall buildings---whereas they really are wonderful museums, vibrant performings arts organizations, unique, one-of-a-kind restaurants and shops, and great public spaces---including beaches, bayfront, and parks of all sizes.

We want urban amenities, not urban feeling and living. Sarasota has always had the reputation of being a small town with the desirable kinds of urban amenities. This combination is the unique character of Sarasota.

Now it is disappearing. SOS works to save the real urban amenities and support responsible, sustainable growth. We oppose the sacrifice of all kinds of public spaces, tree canopy, etc. to runaway growth, subsidized by our tax dollars, which threatens our small town living and feeling while offering us nothing but a signature of concrete and congested city center in return.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Sarasota Issues

Our city faces a number of issues that risk loss of confidence in our leadership as these issues linger.

  • The sewage pumping station equipment failures and subsequent communication failures are difficult to understand in today's environment
  • Constantly increasing traffic in downtown Sarasota with no effective communication of a short or long term plan offering relief, is problematic
  • The lack of convenient parking downtown is still an issue despite some progress being made
  • The numerous failures of the Hope VI grant applications for the Janie Poe housing project has focussed attention on Sarasota's poor record in maintaining clean, healthy homes for our very low income residents
  • Affordable housing has been discussed for a very long time and even though everyone agrees it is a major issue, no progress is being made in addressing it
  • The Newtown Redevelopment project has languished for lack of funding.

Amidst all of these issues, a conference center is being aggressively promoted in Sarasota that would require 100% public funding and be placed on public bayfront land. We do not see the benefit of public investment (with no private investment) in a conference center when faced with these issues. Our priorities seem to be clear.

Tree canopy on Main Street shading sidewalks and parking

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

High Rise oaks along Main St.

Pictures Worth a 1000 Words?

The pictures above show two views of Main Street. One picture shows a view of toward lower Main with the tree canopy from the black olives shading the sidewalk and providing a memorable sense of place. The other picture shows a view to the east where the City has planted "High Rise"oaks (an oak bred specifically for a non-spreading, column like form) in order to minimize maintenance costs.

We question whether the loss of "sense of place", a shady canopy setting, is worth the savings in maintenance costs. The feeling of a nice, tree shaded downtown, is very different from the sense one gets from walking on the sidewalk next to the High Rise oaks. The High Rise oaks along the sidewalk remind one of cutting across a mall parking lot to get to the indoor stores. Not exactly a memorable downtown "ambience."

A tree canopied Main Street, lined with unique, local businesses makes for a wonderful sense of place that will continue to draw visitors and locals to Sarasota's downtown. Let's build on the assets we have.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

About "Save Our Sarasota™"

Our mission is to be a constructive and positive voice for the preservation and enhancement of Sarasota.

Our goals are to preserve, enhance, and promote:
  • Sarasota's uniqueness
  • Sarasota's ecological, cultural, and historic legacies and distinguished institutions
  • Urbanization that respects pedestrian scale and activities
  • Ecologically sensitive urban design
  • Economically responsible urban development
  • Integrity of public management
  • Current and new passive and active public places for human enjoyment, responsive to local characteristics (climate, vegetation, landscape, marinescape)
  • Affordable housing and necessary support amenities
  • Locally owned businesses and affordable commercial space
  • New businesses that respond to Sarasota's uniqueness and priorities.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Margaret Mead, American Anthropoligist (1901-1978)

Monday, March 14, 2005

Black olive trees at 1350 Main St, shading parked cars.

1350 Main St after the black olives have been clearcut.

Clearcutting in Downtown Sarasota?

More "progress" on Main Street. To make room for the new mixed use condo building at 1350 Main, it was apparently expedient to remove 3 beautiful black olives that stood in the way. The trees were simply cut down and hauled away.

In their place we are promised an urban setting complete with an arcade that will stretch from the building front to almost the curb. No more room for trees and vegetation. We are saddened by the loss.

But the die has been cast - our new downtown code gives incentives to developers that will include an arcade in their design. There will be no room for trees on an arcade covered sidewalk.

We will also give the developer the public space above the arcade: a 12' width space, the length of the building frontage and 3 stories in height. This giveaway equates to 3600 sq ft of space for every 100 ft of building frontage - the equivalent of two nice size condo units. In today's market this is worth well over $1M, or $10,000 per lineal frontage foot on Main Street. That's a nice incentive for the developer.

The trees? They are gone.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Graphic showing public space occupied by arcades.

Arcades: What Is In the New Downtown Code?

The new downtown code allows building developers the option of having an awning, a gallerie (essentially a roof over the sidewalk) or an arcade. These building structures can offer shade and protection from rain.

Arcades are parts of a building that extend over an existing sidewalk to within 3 feet of the curb and create a covered walkway for pedestrians. They will have 3 foot columns and 12 foot ceilings. The building developer will be allowed to enclose additional building square footage over the top of the arcade for 3 floors. It is felt by many that the arcades will accentuate the canyon like effect that will be created by the new, taller downtown buildings. These arcades will impinge on existing trees and vegetation…eliminating green space between the street and the sidewalk.

City policy describes arcades as “incentives for developers”. The reason for this is that the arcades will be built in the public right of way, and use public air space. Save Our Sarasota
opposes this use of public space. SOS believes that incentives of this type are not necessary and public land and air space should not be given away.

In addition, SOS believes that trees and vegetation are aesthetically more pleasing than arcades, as well as providing sound muffling and environmental benefits such as reducing carbon dioxide while increasing oxygen. Galleries and awnings can provide shade and shelter, yet allow trees to thrive in our downtown.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Grounds of the Sarasota Garden Club amidst high rise buildings.

Great Places in Sarasota: The Garden Club

Nestled among current high rise buildings (Renaissance Towers, the Hyatt, Beau Ciel) and the soon to be built "Quay site" project, is the charming and restful Sarasota Garden Club. Wandering around the grounds takes away the rush of the traffic, the high rise structures, and the asphalt parking lots. Instead, you are enveloped in a human scale, natural scene. Sounds of traffic are muffled, lush green plants draw at your senses, your mind begins to wander. This is truely one of Sarasota's great places.

The grounds of the Garden Club, the location near the heart of downtown and it's dedicated volunteers bring back memories of small town living. This place exemplifies the vision for Sarasota: "A city of urban amenities with a small town living and feeling." Surrounded by the urban amenities that include an up-scale hotel, modern condos and the Van Wezel Hall, is this wonderful small town space that bring peaceful feelings within the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Truely one of the great places in Sarasota!

Friday, March 11, 2005

Renowned Preservationist to Speak in Sarasota

Dr. William J. Murtagh will speak about the importance of local preservation efforts in a talk entitled: "Sarasota at the Crossroads: Keeping There Here". This event is sponsored by the Sarasota Alliance for Historical Preservation. The program is open to the public for a nominal fee. It will be held on Thursday, March 31, 7:30 PM at G-Wiz Museum, 1001 Boulevard of the Arts. The program will follow the Alliance's annual meeting.

Dr. Murtagh has held pivotal positions in the field of historic preservation for more than 30 years. He has served as the first Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, Department of the Interior, and has been Vice President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and President of the Victorian Society in America. He directed the Preservation Program at Columbia University, and initiated Preservation Programs at the University of Maryland and the University of Hawaii.

Call Lorrie Muldowney at 861-1183 for more information.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Sarasota City Commission Elections

SOS believes the IDEAL CANDIDATE for the City Commission must have:
  • A commitment to preserve Sarasota's unique character
  • A dedication to retaining public space for public use
  • A willingness to protect the bayfront's ecological, cultural and historical legacy
  • An understanding of the primary importance of the tree canopy
  • A realization of the impact of overbuilding

While candidates must be qualified and have experience to be able policy makers for our city, the ideal candidate will also exemplify the five characteristics listed here.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Sunset over Sarasota Bay

Sarasotans speak on issues

Recently, four Sarasota residents conducted a survey to assess views on current Sarasota issues. The survey forms and results were published in several local newspapers. Tabulation of results was done by a local accounting firm.

Responses were recieved from 736 people. The top issues and their results were as follows
  1. 95% indicated new projects needed to be analyzed for traffic flow.
  2. 91% said better traffic flow is needed.
  3. 89% believe traffic impact agreements should be enforced.
  4. 89% say new construction should not cover the entire lot, from curb to curb.
  5. 88% oppose city owned property for private development.
  6. 87% favor control of vagrancy in downtown and neighborhoods.
  7. 86% favor public parking garages.
  8. 83% oppose subsidizing private development.
  9. 82% want the Bay Front Drive retained as 4-lane and US 41.
  10. 82% favor strategic sidewalks in neighborhoods.

While these results would not be considered a scientific survey, they do represent the opinion of a sizeable number of Sarasota people. These results are a confirmation of what many of us hear on a daily basis. The issues of traffic, downtown development, parking and vagrancy are issues that need to be addressed more thoroughly.

We applaud the backers of this survey (John Sandefur, Bob Peterson, Bob Tate and Gil Waters) for funding this survey. The better we can define the issues we face, the better the chance that the issues will be addressed and resolved. Public discussion is needed on these issues.

Save Our Sarasota™ favors discussion of these issues. The residents of Sarasota agree with our city's vision: "A city of urban amenities with a small town living and feeling." The issues defined in this survey are more closely associated with large cities. We wish to retain the small town living and feeling that has been a defining characteristic of Sarasota.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Save Our Sarasota™

Save Our Sarasota™ is a group of Sarasota residents that researches issues facing our city and publicizes a viewpoint. We try to present reasonable comments on a variety of issues.

Save Our Sarasota was formed as a response to the potential removal of trees on Main Street. Through the efforts of Save Our Sarasota™ a discussion of the value of trees in a downtown urban setting has taken place. Trees will continue to have a place in our beautiful downtown.

New issues include the inclusion of arcades in the downtown zoning code, the proposed conference center and cultural district.