Sunday, July 31, 2005

Model Behavior

Sarasota has a number of new developments being rushed to the application stage before time runs out on the old zoning code - the one that allows much higher buildings. Complaints were voiced, law suits were filed (and more may be filed) but we seem to be getting close the end of the process.

With Pineapple Square, the Quay project, the Michael Saunders project on Orange, Chris Brown's project on 301, the possible Plaza Verde project and others, we think it is high time to demand models for all downtown projects.

Because of the issues that have arisen from the projects now underway (no setback on Fruitville project, 4 stories of free space given to the developer above the sidewalk at 1350 Main, the "concrete chunk" porte-cochere in the street at 100 Central, the loading dock at Whole Foods that requires use of the sidewalk across the street to back semis into it) we obviously have a hard time visualizing what the completed project will look like and how it will fit into its nearby surroundings. This is exactly what Dale Parks has been complaining about with the CRA Advisory Board. Problems can be corrected early in the design process only if the problem is identified. This is what models do. Many times models are the only technique that can allow identification of a problem.

We would strongly suggest the city require a scale model of each project showing how it will fit with the nearby buildings, streets, sidewalk, alleys, trees, etc. This will give an indication of how the area will "work" once the project is completed. The opportunity for many eyes to view the project and comment on potential problems will be valuable.

We also think it is very important that Sarasota develop a large scale model of the entire downtown including the bayfront. Proposed changes - new development proposals or other changes - would be placed into this setting so everyone can easily visualize what the change will look like.

The proposed Plaza Verdi project is particularly complicated and very difficult to visualize for concept drawings - this offers enormous opportunity for another major screw up unless every tool available is used to evaluate what is being proposed.

A Dangerously Frothy Real Estate Market

New home building is apparently slowing - except for condo building in the South.

An article in the Christian Science Monitor says:

"Because the Fed is expected to continue to raise rates through the year, economists are less sanguine about housing in 2006. "That's when we will probably see some retrenchment," says Joe Abate, an economist at Lehman Brothers in New York.

In a recent report, Mr. Abate says he believes that on a national basis, housing prices are overvalued about 15 percent. Some markets he refers to as "dangerously frothy." In those areas, housing is becoming difficult for people to afford, so they are resorting to unusual mortgages that lower the monthly payment but make the overall cost of a house more expensive."

Does this mean that our own "dangerously frothy" real estate market may see some changes? Unfortunately we cannot predict that. It sure seems that the supply of downtown condos is plenty - particularly if, as is widely believed, a significant number of the contracts on the as yet unfinished condos are mostly held by speculators.

Seems like a lot of speculators own rental property in all Sarasota neighborhoods. In the spring there were many "for sale" signs. Now the same properties have "for rent" signs. Could it be that a limit has been reached in prices people are willing to pay and in the number of speculators holding properties waiting for a buyer with money? Of course this could be just a seasonal thing, but somehow I have my doubts.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Flipping Over Naples

The following is a partial reprint of a recent Naples Daily News editorial:

"Flipping may be risky, but so are many things

The Naples Daily News July 17, 2005


These days they're more than dolphins with a knack for showmanship.

They're real estate investors with a knack for sensing a niche in a blazing hot real estate market. Without any intention of living in them, flippers buy homes only to sell or flip them to someone else — sometimes buying and selling in the same day.

Their proliferation and impact on the marketplace were summarized in this newspaper last Sunday. It told of small and large investors alike in the midst of profit-taking that has helped pushed taxable property values upward by nearly 20 percent in Collier County and 26 percent in Lee County in a single year.

Some flippers buy and sell property they have never seen, let alone occupied. Some pocket a respectable year's salary in a single, quick deal. Payoffs seem proportionate to flippers' investment and patience.

There are down sides. There is fear of a bubble about to burst, though except for big condominium projects that bank on deposits turning into closures, a burst may mean a mere price plateau.

Further, under the surface, there is an unspoken impact on affordable or workforce housing. Prices of land are high enough without any "help" from flippers.

In most other contexts, this is the point in an editorial where we call for a halt to the forces exerting the destructive influence. Not this time — except to offer a reminder that the next time we witness flipping or absurd home prices or the heirs to a landmark home try to sell to pay the taxes, please remember how we got where we are. This is what drives our community and its economy."

Maybe the question to ask is: does the end justify the means? As housing prices skyrocket and moderate income residents can no longer afford to live here, what happens to the lifestyle for those that can afford it? It seems that at some point the service providers either accept a much lower lifestyle (boarding houses?), or those that demand the service pay much higher for the service. When the average home is $300,000, the average wage must be $100,000. What can the wage earner(s) get in a different part of the country. What keeps them here?

An example is a letter to the editor in a recent SHT. In part it says: I, for one, won't be here. I just got a better-paying job and bought a 10-year-old house with three bedrooms and two baths on two acres with spectacular mountain views for less than a "standard" lot sells for west of the Trail. Goodbye, Sarasota. I'm the one of many who are leaving this place behind.

And, by the way, we seem to be able to take care of price gouging when a hurricane approaches, why is price gouging with homes different?

Saturday, July 23, 2005

The Parking Web

From the CRA Transcript that we posted is this conversation:

City Manager McNees: And all of the parking needed won’t now necessarily be served by this particular project. Mrs. Saunders did agree at the time both she and the city were competing to purchase the old Verizon lot at the corner of Laurel and Orange, that if the city to some degree step aside at that point in time and allow her to acquire that land, she would lease it back to us, we could get parking without having to buy it, and then she would work with us to build public parking into her project when she eventually developed it. And, hopefully we can still do that. Her project as it’s currently constructed and for which she has submitted a site plan for approval does not include that parking.

Dir. Planning Robinson: And furthermore, I don’t know that there would be much that she could do for public parking, because her project is a big, land-intensive use project with office and residential.

This is quite interesting as all the CRA participants agree that Michael Saunders promised that puiblic parking would be available in her project if the city would back away from competing for the Verizon property that Michael Saunders bought. Apparently the city was very interested in some (or all) of the property to fulfill the parking requirement that had been identified, but then backed away from the deal. And, of course, now we know why.

Today it seems that maybe the city got snookered on that deal also. Now the story is that Michael Saunders did not really promise parking availability. Since nothing was written down, we are into a "he said, she said" mode.

It is also quite interesting that the Dir. of Planning seems to support Michael Saunders because her project is " big, land intensive... with office and residential." What the heck has this got to do with whether public parking could be available? We read this as "more profit can be made selling condos than helping the city with parking." It would seem that if a promise were made for parking, and the city took a specific action based on that promise, and that action likely resulted in a better bargaining position for the purchaser (Michael Saunders), why is there suddenly not "much that she could do for public parking?"

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Transcript - Special Session CRA (Purchase of Dolphin Ave Property)

Special Session CRA
July 11, 2005

(Meeting was video taped, but not recorded. Mayor Servian and Commissioner Shelin participated and voted via conference call. Save Our Sarasota transcribed the meeting. It is accurate to the best of our knowledge.)

Vice-Mayor Atkins: The first and only item is to authorize the Executive Director [City Manager is Executive Director of CRA] to sign and submit a written offer to purchase property within the CRA boundaries for public parking.

Director of Planning and Development, Jane Robinson: I think this is going to be one of those times in Sarasota’s redevelopment history where we will look back and say that the stars and the moon were all in the right alignment relative to purchasing this piece of property that we’re here to discuss today for public purpose. The public purchase is for a parking garage. And that parking garage site is encouraged, in fact, is in the Downtown Master Plan that has been adopted and is in almost the exact vicinity of the designation on the plan. Due to the initiative of the CRA Executive Director, our City Manager, this opportunity is before you today. The location is the SW corner of Dolphin Street and Orange Avenue and, as I mentioned earlier, is absolutely consistent with our Downtown Master Plan. But before I recite the administrative recommendation, the City Manager…Executive Director…may have some comments.

City Manager, Michael McNees: Just a few. I appreciate everyone juggling their schedule because this is certainly a time-critical issue.

We’ve been looking at property in this area for some time and this is a particular property that was of interest. And it was difficult to make contact with the owner. They’re out of the country. They actually live in Germany. And I had an understanding that this person was going to be in town for just a couple of days and had managed to make contact and she had agreed to meet with us on Friday…when she was in town. And we got a call Friday morning that she was here and willing to sit down with Jane and I for an hour. And we walked away with the verbal agreement that the City would…that I would come here today and ask you to purchase this property. And we are in a position of either we either buy this proper-ty…now… or someone else is going to buy it this week. The buyer [sic] is very anxious to sell this piece of property.

The asking price is what we are offering, is 4.4 million dollars. And I’ve done some reality checking against some other properties that I would say are in play in the neighborhood on a per square foot price. And even though it sounds crazy, that number per square foot is in line with other contracts I’m aware of in that neighborhood. I’ve seen ranges anywhere from $209 per square foot to $240 per square foot. This one in particular is $215 per square foot.

And we would be able, if we only achieve this particular property, and I’ve provided you a draft engineering study that we’ve already done (as I said, we’ve been looking at this one), you could get 335 parking spaces on the site. Based on the price of this land and the estimate of the engineers that have done the preliminary work on the parking garage, that would come around to between $23,000 to $24,000 per space. Now, I’ll sit here and say, "That’s very high. That’s a lot of money." But the real issue is it’s only going to be higher tomorrow and it is never going to be less than it is now.

Now we also, I’ll say, have an interest in squaring out the block, so to speak, or angling out the trapezoid, as it were, based on the parameters of this property and working on other property to the west which would give us even better efficiencies in the garage, more spaces, and would probably bring down that per space cost some. But that’s more work that we have to do. We know we can construct a stand alone garage on this site, get 335 critically-needed spaces. As you’ll recall, this is the number two need from your parking study, is this area for parking spaces. It’s identified in the area where civic reservations for parking are asked for in your master plan.

And if you asked me, "Is this is a good price?" I’d say, "No, it’s an expensive price. But it is the price." If we’re going to make any headway on the parking issues in this part of town, given the current environment, then I guess the only way I can say it is: " That’s the price of poker." If we want to get into the parking game, this is what it’s going to cost us. So I actually wholeheartedly recommend that you authorize me to go ahead and execute a contract on this property.

There are a couple of contingencies that we’ll talk about. The buyer has asked that a resolution be prepared outlining some of these terms and specifying that as an option, an alternative to pursuing any kind of condemnation, that we would just do a direct purchase.

I have been told that there is a Phase I environmental study that was done when this property was last sold about two years ago. We will want to see that because this is a former printing site, for a printing shop. And so we’re interested in seeing that information.

The other detail that we haven’t been able to hammer down---there are five tenants out of a possible 12 in this building that currently exist. There are seven vacancies and there are five tenants. We very much need to see the leases for those tenants. And I have spoken to two of them myself. On Saturday morning two of them were actually in their shops and so I was able to speak to them, have a sense of what’s in their leases, and have a reasonable expectation that they’re all similar, because they’re all entered about the same time. But that is not a certainty. Now I’ve been told by the attorney for the owner that he will have those leases, hard copy, in hand first thing in the morning.

And so what I would ask is that you give me some discretion, based on whether there are any surprises in those leases. For example, if we find out that the five tenants in there have a 20-year lockdown lease that we would have to buy out. Well, that would materially change the cost of this acquisition. And then I would probably say, "Well, let’s either come back and talk about it." This deal would be off. But I would ask that you give me the discretion to evaluate these leases to see whether there are any surprises before I actually execute the contract.

And other than that, there are no other contingencies that I can think of. This would be a fairly straightforward real estate transaction. We would fund it with internal funds that would eventually be paid back by a bond issue against future CRA revenues, that we would probably do at the time we were ready to construct a parking garage, so they would all be rolled together. Mr. Mitchell [Director of Finance] recommends that internal financing’s the most efficient way for us to do it so we wouldn’t need any kind of bridge loan.

It’s important to the seller that this close fairly quickly. They would like to have a closing within 30 days.

So, given your approval today, Mr. Fournier and the buyer’s attorney would have to settle on the terms of the contract. We would execute that and look to close within 30 days.

The only other issue, I would raise, we would immediately then become responsible for the maintenance of the building and dealing with the ongoing day to day issues with the tenants. And we can accommodate that without a lot of trouble.

Commissioner Palmer: Based on the information that we have here in regard to the purchase that occurred in 2003, apparently the sale amount was 1.7 million, is that correct? And the value was $1,146,100, according to this. This is the assessed value on the property. This was, of course, when the peroperty had Serbin on it. They tore it down and they constructed this shopping area. So obviously it’s not only the base property, but it’s also the improvements that are included. And if we put a parking structure on there we have to tear down a shopping center that opened about a year ago.

City Manager McNees: That’s correct.

Commissioner Palmer: There is no way to incorporate that? According to these plans that I looked over very…

City Manager McNees: No, Ma’am. That’s not a realistic…

Commissioner Palmer: Also, in looking over this report again…we have only had this a very short period of time of time…but the information that I see in here in regard to the parking space construction costs, I think the most is somewhere between 13,500 to 14,000 dollars as opposed to the twenty some thousand that you’re speaking of. What is the variation in that price? Are these hard costs as opposed to soft costs?

City Manager McNees: What I was talking about was construction cost and land cost together. The engineering study that you have estimates a range of costs for parking spaces depending on the configuration of the garage. If you have to have liner buildings, it drives up the cost per space considerably, and being that it’s a pretty small site---and those would be decisions you don’t have to make today; those would be later decisions---but the numbers that I gave you were based on the lowest estimate of the consulting engineer for space and the land cost.

Commissioner Palmer: And then the other question I had…you indicated that you had done some research on the sales price of properties in the general neighborhood. Could you give us a little more specific information about that?

City Manager McNees: Actually, what I said was, "I am aware of contracts that are in play." I haven’t got current purchase…and this…I’d be the first to admit this is somewhat speculative. And there is a speculative fever that is taking over this neighborhood and this has become, probably over the course of just the last couple of months, one of the hottest little investment areas in Sarasota. And so I cannot sit here and show you good, solid comparable sales. Because there is no good, solid, comparable property. In that way, this is somewhat speculative. And this is an opportunity that is open to us for only a very short time. And that is essentially through today. And that is the environment that we’re in. And I guess the way I look at it, if we don’t do this today, it is certainly not going to be easier do a it in a week, or in a month, or certainly much less in a year, because people are working to aggregate property in this neighborhood at a fever pitch, as we speak.

Commissioner Palmer: So this price, then, is essentially not negotiable.

City Manager McNees: That is correct.

Commissioner Palmer: And your understand is that if we don’t purchase it, it will got for at least this much if not more from somebody else who is in the wings.

City Manager McNees: That is absolutely my understanding and I think perhaps for more.

Commissioner Shelin: I don’t believe the previous structure was torn down. Parts of the Serbin building were removed, but the building that is there now is the original shopping center that was built many years ago. And it has been cosmetically redecorated on the exterior. But it’s essentially a structure that has existed for some time. I think while the price is extremely expensive, I think this is an area of town where we need to stimulate retail development and it is poised to take off, but parking is a problem for that area. And, frankly, I think the purchase of this site would be a good idea.

Mayor Servian: Several weeks ago when we had sent the city manager off to look at sites, I certainly didn’t expect we’d have one back this fast. But I am extremely pleased that we do. I believe that if we don’t move on this property today and this property is sold, we will be hard pressed to find another parcel in that vicinity for anywhere near this price. And, although I see that there are some contingencies that we have to deal with…I’m a little concerned about the maintenance and tenants issues…but I still think that we need to move forward on this. And I applaud the Executive Director and Miss Robinson for moving so quickly on this.

Commissioner Bilyeu: Let me get this correct. It’s 20,400 square feet of property?

City Manager McNees: By my calculation, according to what was in the engineering study, it’s 80,000. No, excuse me.

Commissioner Bilyeu: I’ve got 102 x 200.

City Manager McNees: That’s right.

Commissioner Bilyeu: So that’s 20,400 square feet. At 4.4 million?

City Manager McNees: Correct.

Commissioner Bilyeu: Now, that’s not even a half an acre. Is that correct? What’s an acre? 43,560?

[Deep sigh] Well, I have to tell you it’s taking my breath away. Here we’re selling a land that’s almost two acres for Plaza Verdi for 4.1 million and we’re OK with that and you’re wanting us to buy not even a half an acre for 4.4 million? Somebody help me out with this please.

City Manager McNees: Well, the biggest difference in the two sites is the Plaza Verdi property is severely encumbered by the easement with the Sarasota Opera, so it’s not free and clear. And the second thing I’d say is, "I’m the first one to agree…this is a lot of money for this piece of property." The only thing I know is that if we don’t secure it, someone else is going to, and then our opportunity to provide the parking that’s needed in this neighborhood will go away with it.

Commissioner Bilyeu: Has anyone ever discussed with Ms. Saunders about putting some public parking in her garage? We were thinking about buying a piece of that parcel that we let her buy and she’s getting ready to build. And I would think that would have been a great spot to spend a few million dollars to her to allow her to build some parking for public use.

Dir. Planning Robinson: I did talk to her about that some time ago and she said she would think about it, as I recall, but she does have plans in our office right now and they do not state that there will be public parking. But initially I think that was the intent, that she would provide some public parking.

City Manager McNees: And all of the parking needed won’t now necessarily be served by this particular project. Mrs. Saunders did agree at the time both she and the city were competing to purchase the old Verizon lot at the corner of Laurel and Orange, that if the city to some degree step aside at that point in time and allow her to acquire that land, she would lease it back to us, we could get parking without having to buy it, and then she would work with us to build public parking into her project when she eventually developed it. And, hopefully we can still do that.

Her project as it’s currently constructed and for which she has submitted a site plan for approval does not include that parking.

Dir. Planning Robinson: And furthermore, I don’t know that there would be much that she could do for public parking, because her project is a big, land-intensive use project with office and residential.

Commissioner Bilyeu: Well, I’m a firm believer if we would have talked and negotiated with her that we could have done something there. I don’t think we worked as aggressively as we could have to make that come to fruition. And to have her plans come before us and not include public parking, that saddens me very much, especially when now we’re forced to look at buying property. And you can tell me until we’re all blue in the face, but dirt is dirt, and for us to spend 4.4 million dollars for a half an acre when we’re getting 4.1 million for almost two acres…I can’t go along with this.

City Manager McNees: The only thing I can say to that is those conversations with Ms. Saunders were had. I’ve been in her office personally and that commitment to assist us in developing public parking on that site was made. But I don’t have the ability to deliver that…I can’t…I don’t have the…that’s a bird in the bush to me and this is a bird that we can put in the hand. It’s something we can control. And I think if we let it go, we’re back in a position of this situation being not within our control.

Commissioner Shelin: It’s also the case, I believe, that the agreement for the price of the property where Ursa Grae is proposing to build Plaza Verdi was made some time ago and we all know that property values are escalating very rapidly, so there’s clearly is going to be a big difference. But I agree with Commissioner Bilyeu. It is very expensive and it makes me nervous. But I don’t think we have any choice.

Mayor Servian: And also with the issue with the Plaza Verdi site, if you recall, we had the discussion about whether we should go and reappraise that property, but with the increased price of construction, we felt that we would end up upside down in that conversation and therefore we didn’t pursue that.

Commissioner Atkins: One of the things here that’s happening is that there’s a whole lot of water that’s gone under the bridge and there’s no way we’re going to be able to bring that back. And we’re in a situation now where we’ve got to make a decision based on where we are now.

Commissioner Palmer: That is essentially what I was going to say, too. I’m not totally thrilled with the price we’re having to pay for this property. We talked over many, many years about doing some land banking and unfortunately we didn’t have the foresight to do it and you and I are as much responsible for that as anybody else, Vice Mayor. But I think we are in a position where regardless, particularly understanding that there are other offers out there that are at least this much if not more. And that if we don’t jump on this opportunity we’re going to lose it.

There is a vitally important need for parking in the Burns Square…Burns Court…area and if we don’t take advantage of this…whether we do a liner building or just parking, that’s a discussion that will come later.

But we need to get this under our control. And my concern is, yes, it’s a lot of money and I think we’re all very careful about how we spend our CRA and our TIF dollars as well as our taxpayers’ dollars, but this is an investment that I think we have to make in the TIF district for this particular area. And I think Commission Shelin and the Mayor’s comments as well as yours, and I agree with Commissioner Bilyeu, too. I think these are all good points. Again, we are where we are. We could go back and play Monday Morning Quarterback, but it won’t do us any good. So on that basis, if you’re ready for a motion, I will make it…or not.

Mayor Servian: I’m ready.

City Manager McNees: One other comment I’d like to make. Make no mistake about it. We are in competition with, I would say, three or four large scale, pretty deep pocketed development interests for this land and for the other things we’re trying to accomplish downtown. Now we are at a severe disadvantage. We have to do our negotiating here in public. And I would love to sit here and say, "Well, I happen to know this and that about who’s buying what and here and there." But I can’t do that sitting here in public.

All I can tell you is, I believe very firmly that if we don’t lock down this property, it won’t be there in a week.

Dir. Planning Robinson: I’m not sure that this will make you feel any better, but we as a staff deal with developers all the time and what they’re paying for property. And I did talk to a developer who’s very, very savvy in downtown redevelopment, and for the fun of it I asked him what he thought the price of the City Hall property would go for and he said at least 25 million. Now that’s three to four times bigger than this site. But that’s what he told me.

Commissioner Palmer: I would move the recommendation to authorize the Executive Director to sign and submit a written offer to purchase this property to the prospective seller of the property. And, also, in regard to the contingencies, as part of the motion we need to give the City Manager, the Executive Director of the CRA, the authority, if there are circumstances that do come up that are not going to make this possible, to negate the offer.

Commissioner Shelin: Second.

City Attorney, Robert Fournier: Before you vote on the motion, I just wanted to ask the maker if you would include in the motion the authority to have the Chair execute the resolution that was referenced to because that’s important because you as the Community Redevelopment Authority are only authorized to spend funds in furtherance of the goals of the master plan, the Community Redevelopment Plan, so that would document that.

Commissioner Palmer: I would add that to the motion.

Vice-Mayor Atkins: It has been moved and properly seconded and an elongated motion has been made…would the clerk like to restate it or are we clear on the motion? [Indications it was clear]

Commissioner Palmer: Well, I think that the Planning Director did indicate this was totally consistent with the Downtown Master Plan. In regard to civic spaces, it’s been identified in that plan in this particular area.

And I think the point that was made regarding the Ursa Grae [Plaza Verdi] property is that at the time that was initially appraised and dealt with in regard to Ursa Grae, the property obviously was assessed at a lower value. But we’ve had a 350% increase in taxable value in the downtown as well as in the property values. It is going out of sight. There’s no doubt about it. If for some reason this doesn’t move forward and the City takes this over, I have no doubt whatsoever the City could pass this through and make some money on this property because of the value of it. That’s not what we’re intending to do. Our purpose is for the purpose of a parking garage. And that’s what the public interest is here. But based on land values in this area, I don’t think there’s any doubt that it is worth 4.4 million, even though it’s a high asking price..

Commissioner Shelin: We have a crying need for parking downtown and 335 spaces would be an incredibly good addition to downtown. We also need to stimulate retail development to make our downtown really viable for the residents living there and I think this will help to do that.

Commissioner Bilyeu: I’m not opposed to, and I know that we need, parking downtown, and I’m not opposed to that. It’s just funny that…if we were spending excess money for something that was for the good of all of Sarasota, I could probably vote for this. But this is going to be for a few people in the neighborhood there that need parking. I I understand they need parking, but I think for us to go out and spend this kind of money and these kind of dollars on something when we can’t even get, I think, the correct value for our property… And we can talk until we’re blue in the face about it…I’m still not agreeing with what our property is worth. You can count all the encumbrances you want, if this property is worth 4.4 million, that at Plaza Verdi is worth 16 million dollars. I’m not going to vote for with this. I don’t think this is a good decision and with this happening like this, no wonder people love coming to this city.

Mayor Servian: I would just like to reiterate the fact that not only is this consistent with our Downtown Master Plan, but it is also consistent with the parking plan, the parking study that’s been done. That is an area that is number two on our list. The other area is Palm Avenue area and we’re addressing that. This is number two. And we are in direct competition with the private sector. And we move now or we lose it. And not only do we lose that site, but we lose the opportunity to fulfill our Downtown Master Plan or our parking plan.

And this is an investment that is for the public good and for the greater public good. We get too many criticisms when we’re investing in projects and people misperceive it as giving the developers money. This is an opportunity for us to make a clear cut investment in pure municipal parking which everyone is screaming for. And I applaud the administration for moving forward and moving as quickly as they did.

Vice-Mayor Atkins: I’d just like to say this is an amazing process that I’m going through here, too.

But it’s probably in a whole another different way. I thought in whole different kind of way, because what I thought about when I read the price of this land, I thought "Wow! They’re going to spend all the money before we spread the CRA!" And I’m more concerned about that sharing some of this wealth that we have made the sacrifice to generate downtown. And so I just want to have us as a Commission and a CRA to look out into the future and make sure that we’re remembering that the rest of us who made the sacrifice for the CRA to grow to this extent. And it’s been twenty years of this process and now is the time to also continue to look at how we’re going to encourage the county to participate with us in spreading some of this wealth.

I don’t want our competitors out there just looking at possible land purchases to think that we’re going to be so easily taken so often. But this is a space that we truly need, it’s an identifiable need, I think it’s for a greater good than just the commercial owners in that area. I’m going to support this with the caveat that we continue to understand we have greater responsibilities.

Passed by voice vote 4-1. Yes: Servian, Atkins, Palmer, Shelin No: Bilyeu

Parking, Parking, Parking

The Pelican has a great follow up on the Orange Dolphin Galleria deal. No appraisal was done, apparently the 401 Pineapple was acquired by Chris Brown after the sale to Bay Mountain, LLC; thus the rumors all over town that Chris Brown was the owner. It seems that the city wants to acquire this property also - making a large area for parking.

McNees has sent a letter to the Dolphin property owners with the purchase conditions.

We also note that on Channel 7 yesterday, their coverage of the acquisition of the Bank of America property on Main indicated that McNees was interested in obtaining parking in this building also. Benderson, recently purchased this building and while the bank and the University Club will stay, a hotel (possibly DoubleTree will occupy part of the building).

We certainly hope that the parking study needs assessment is on target for timing and quantity of parking required. Other wise we will be spending TIF dollars on a "glut" of parking - maybe that goes along with todays story in the SHT about the "glut" of condos downtown.

In the Pelican article McNees is quoted as saying he was “confident that if the garage falls from favor, we can sell it [the site] for the purchase price or even make a profit.” Contingencies in the deal include soil testing is OK (former printing plant site known to have environmental issues) and lease buy out cost for current tenants.

Meanwhile Bilyeu was quoted in the Pelican: “Well then the city ought to have a lot of friends,” commented Commissioner Danny Bilyeu. He was the sole commissioner to vote against purchasing the Orange Avenue site for a 315-car parking garage. “If you’re going to buy land high and sell it low, you’re going to have a lot of friends.” Apparently his confidence in this poker game/real estate gamble is not too high.

Monday, July 18, 2005


This little shop on the corner of Pineapple and Dolphin exclaims in a bright red sign on the door,

On Jan 4, 2005 this property, at 401 Pineapple, was purchased by Bay Mountain, LLC for $1.6M. This is the property contiguous to, and on the west side of, the Orange Dolphin Galleria property that the City apparently is about to purchase.

Bay Mountain, LLC lists its "Manager/Member" as:


This, of course is the same group that is proposing the Pineapple Square development project a couple blocks to the north on Pineapple.

For comparison:

the Orange Dolphin site is listed as having 21,263 sq ft. At the proposed purchase price of $4.4M, this calculates to $207 per Sq ft. This property has a 10,874 sq ft building.

The 401 Pineapple property, purchased in January of this year has 8,610 sq ft and its purchase price calculates to $186 per sq ft. This property has 6,337 sq ft building.

We wonder if there is a connection here. If so, O what a tangled web we weave. Like Paul Harvey says, when will we find out "the rest of the story"?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Pineapple Place

More than 10 years ago, Kevin Perry bought this historic building at 127 Pineapple and made it into a wonderful little antique and interior decorating shop. It is another of the unique, small shopping experiences that give downtown Sarasota its "sense of place."

It seems that Mr Perry’s wonderful shop is in the middle of the acquisition site being touted as Pineapple Square. Also Mr. Perry is adamant that he will not sell to the Pineapple Square developers. He loves his shop, has put much effort into the business over the years and has kept the historical building true to its roots and maintained it well.

Apparently the Pineapple Square developers have put significant pressure on him to sell, indicating they would build around and over him. Yet he resists.

This building was built in 1925 and is listed as a historical resource on the Florida Master Site File. Originally it was a plumbing shop, then in 1934 it became the home of the Sarasota Tribune. It is described as being Mediterranean revival style and it retains the integrity of design, both important criteria for historical resources.

But mostly it is a wonderful shop that should remain part of Sarasota’s sense of place. Is the greater good served by stepping aside while an upscale shopping center removes all traces of our past? We believe it is better to push back and say the greater good is best served by allowing the unique Sarasota places to continue their long established and productive existence.

Shrouded Future?

Noticed this yesterday. The Belle Haven Apts is under wraps!

I immediately thought this must be some sort of sign. Is the future of the Belle Haven Apts being considered today, is something happening that needs to be hidden from the public, what is going on here?

This obviously needed to be researched immediately - and we are known for our persistent and thorough research. So, with a calm, cool and collected determination, I drove up to the building, got out of the car with my digital camera in hand and started my research. Not one to jump to conclusions, I began with a close inspection and quickly uncovered the truth.

It seems that all the recent attention concerning the future of this historical gem has bugged the owners. In order to clear any doubt, it was obviousley necessary to take drastic action. It's current ruby-like appearence is not to be considered as a reference to it's precious place in our historical landscape, nor does the shroud like wrap indicate a dead body (at least not yet).

No, the truth is 1-800 Terminix. We trust this action will keep the Belle Haven Apts healthy for many years to come so that future Sarasota visitors may appreciate it as much as we do. Sometimes you need to look at the fine print to uncover the truth.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Revisiting Model Behavior

From a recent posting at Sarasota Voices:

Subject: Re: COS: "giving away four stories of public space"

I would like to respond because I was the one that was quoted out of context by Bob Ardren in the Pelican Press. Ardren sat in a CRA Advisory Board meeting where we were discussing the role of one of the members in regard to design review. Because this is a financial and investment based board, as outlined in their resolution, I was discussing the difficulties in requiring those types of graphics at what is a very preliminary design review stage. We have always required detailed plans and drawings for projects but requiring models and engineered plans before DRC review is not without problems.

I agree with Save Our Sarasota regarding models but I believe it should be at the time of formal plan review and in fact I was the first person to request and receive this during the original 5 Points review in 1999. I felt I needed to correct this because I do not think it is right to sit in a public meeting,pick a sentence out that someone says, and use it in a different context, in what is an editorial passing itself off as news.

Karin Murphy [City of Sarasota Planning Dept.]

Save Our Sarasota would like to commend Karin for setting the record straight. We also appreciate the fact that we are thinking along the same lines with regard to models. With the major changes taking place in our downtown it is very difficult, if not impossible to visualize what is proposed until after the fact (construction is significantly underway).

Models can help visualize the proposed changes. We would like to see two types of models:
  • The first type would show the proposed new building embedded within the adjacent buildings. This would allow showing some architectural detail.
  • The second type would show how the proposed structure fits into the the entire downtown - that area covered by the downtown code. This would be a large model and each new proposal would show how it would contributes to the downtown area.
Only with models, can we easily grasp the size and context of the proposal. Models would cut through the "pretty picture" renderings that are so often the only thing we see. We also agree that models should be available at the plan review stage.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Bob's Main Street Beat

Bob Adren's column "Main Street Beat" in the Pelican Press is one of the more entertaining and informative columns on the local scene. There is always an interesting tidbit or two..

This week for instance we learned that:

....Isaac brothers .... last week demonstrated a savvy sense of public relations – especially with their new neighbors, the downtown merchants. They set up the Main Street Merchants Association with an office of its own at 1512 Main. It’s a building the brothers already own. Hmmmm.... Anybody else thinking about Little Red Riding Hood?

Caren Lobo (Sarasota News and Books) e-mailed city officials last week, asking why the two newly empty lots on the east side of U.S. 41 on either side of Fruitville Road couldn’t be used for downtown parking. Not exactly prime time but close to some downtown activity. Will this cut down on drivers circling around trying to find a space on Main or is a circle inevitable?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Parking Diligence

From today’s Sarasota Herald Tribune editorial:

...the [CRA] board's decision to spring for the $4.4 million property was rushed and possibly rash. Such a large expenditure of taxpayer funds deserved more careful analysis and public discussion. Instead, it was approved in a hastily called meeting (which wasn't broadcast on television), at which the city commissioners, who serve as the CRA board, failed to ask enough questions.

But when $4.4 million of taxpayers' money is at stake, government has an obligation to show expenditure is absolutely necessary, that it meets the community's goals, and that due diligence has been done. City officials haven't yet fulfilled those obligations. They should -- long before they sign the check.

We have been asking questions about this decision also. And we think it is obvious that the commissioners stumbled on this one. Any time an offer is made with the stipulation that you have to "act now or lose this great opportunity", extra care must be taken to evaluate need and price. Too many people get snookered in these kind of offers.

Across from the street from the Orange Dolphin site is the Michael Saunders property - which ironically the city did not purchase a couple years ago when it was available from GTE. When the city declined, Saunders snapped it up. The city parking study identifies the Saunders site as a place in the Burns Court area where public parking could be targeted. Is this now off the table as a parking site?

Is this much parking needed in the Burns Court vicinity now? Are we sure there are no other options to consider? Are we sure of the future needs? If the commissioners know the answers to these questions, they have not communicated them to the taxpayers.

What do others think about this? A couple recent letters to the editor give a clue.

We think due diligence has been lacking and needs to be applied.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Orange Dolphin Still in Murky Waters

The Pelican Press has an article giving a little more information about the city deal to purchase the 1530 Dolphin property. Bob Ardren says "For better or for worse, Sarasota City Manager Mike McNees threw a big pitch to city commissioners Monday – asking them to offer a truly speculative price for a downtown parcel for parking.....McNees told the commission the owner was in town last weekend and told him she wanted $4.4 million and had other bidders in line if the city doesn’t offer that price.....We’re in competition with three or four pretty deep-pocketed developers," [McNees said] "Not next week, not next month, we buy it today or never."

According to public records, Eva Maria Bartenschlager (Habermanstrasse 8, Gruenwald, Germany) purchased the 1530 Dolphin site from Serbin 12/2003 for $1,700,000. Fair market value (property assessor) is $1,140,100. It is currently zoned CCBD and is will become Downtown Edge under the new Downtown Code.

The property is 21,263 square feet (0.488 acre) and the building is 10,874 square feet.

It is listed as belonging to Bartenschlager Holdings LLLP, 1510 W Hyde Park Street, a corporation created 11/21/2003. Partner is listed as Bartenschlager Management Company, 200 S Orange.

Bartenschlager Management Company was formed 11/20/2003 and officer/directors are:
Gerald Brix, Brixaugustin 320 Park Avenue 31st, New York, NY
John E. Wagner, II, 200 S Orange, Sarasota

Bartenschlager also owns Aleisa Holdings, 11891 US Highway 1, N Palm Beach, FL, created 5/7/1993, with her address given as 1510 Hyde Park.

1510 Hyde Park is almost an acre (42,825 square feet), purchased 4/12/1993 for $1,680,000 and fair market value of $3,848,500, with a building of 6,704 square feet and 2 living units, zoned RSF2.

Gerald Brix appears to be part of no other Florida corporations.

E. John Wagner, II is president of The Tax Deferred Exchange Company, which is primarily managed by attorneys of Williams Parker Harrison Dietz & Getzen, located at 200 S Orange.

A couple key questions still loom. What is the value of the property and how does it fit into the city’s parking plan?

The value of property could be determined by the price that a willing buyer and a willing seller settle on. For us this translates into how does the City establish a price they are willing to pay?

A possible answer to this is a current appraisal by a qualified appraiser. Because of rapidly rising real estate values in Sarasota, at a recent CRA meeting the value of the Plaza Verde property was questioned. The city staff presented the CRA Board with a report- along with a mathematical analysis-that would establish the rationale for not revisiting the appraisal issue. This process was accepted by the CRA Board.

A fair question for the Commissioners (CRA Board) to answer is which method was used to determine the price they would be willing to pay for the 1530 Dolphin property? Or, did the Commissioners simply fold in this "high stakes poker game" and agree with the now or never scenario?

We would certainly hope that with the staff available to answer questions and do analyses, a rational process was used to determine the value (from the city perspective) for this property. We also hope the Commissioners will be forthcoming in explaining to the taxpayers the rationale they used.

If the city now has a new policy for purchasing and selling property, the taxpayers would also like to be told what this is.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Out of the Blue: 1530 Dolphin

As reported Tuesday, the city apparently has made a high dive into the murky waters of the local real estate market to purchase a very nice, recently renovated building at 1530 Dolphin. The city is offering $4.4M for the less than ½ acre property and intends to tear the building down in order to construct a four story parking garage.

So what do we know about this? According to news reports, two commissioners were at an out of state affordable housing conference but voted via telephone. Only Danny Bilyeu opposed the purchase, saying that a developer is paying the city just $4.1 million for two acres between Palm and Pineapple avenues for the Plaza Verdi project and asking why that parcel has not, then, been priced at $16,000,000. The other commissioners expressed misgivings, but voted for the purchase anyway.

Apparently purchasing commercial property is just like buying residential property around here. As City Manager McNees said: "This is the price of poker...if we want to get into the parking game that's what it is going to cost." We hope the affordable housing conference has sessions on affordable parking as well.

There are many questions about this deal that we will be trying to answer over the next few days.

For instance, this property is located directly across Orange Avenue from Michael Saunders’ recently announced hi-rise development. Will her development be required to meet full parking requirements and not rely on the city parking garage?

The "Orange Dolphin Galleria" mall is only 3 short blocks from a larger city-owned parking lot on State Street. This is the lot the Isaac Group wants as part of its proposed Pineapple Square development. The city has a plan to issue a RFP for the State Street lot to get 350 parking places in exchange for the property and development rights of that lot.

What of the businesses that at great expense have set up shop in the 1530 Dolphin Mall and the city’s responsibility to them? What are those business owners’ responses to this sale and their upcoming eviction?
What about the parking master plan? Was this area identified as requiring this number of parking spaces? When did the parcel come up for sale and what was the identified parking need at that time? Why was the parcel not purchased in December, 2003, when the present owner bought it for $1,700,000? What are the local connections involved in this sale? And many other questions.

Calling an "emergency meeting" to make this decision certainly raises a lot of questions. Questions about the deal itself, questions about the true city need, questions about the timing, questions about other city priorities and where this fits in the city and downtown strategy. We understand that sometimes there is need to act quickly, when the window of opportunity is open. However, didn’t this decision require careful analysis of the needs and options prior to acting? In public affairs it always is wise to have several alternatives identified so that pressure decisions can be avoided.

Decisions like the one made Monday raise many questions while at the same time lowering the confidence level in our leadership. And a lot of people are asking the question whether downtown development is a high stakes poker game in which the public does not participate, or an effective long range planning effort that takes all community needs into consideration.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Great Spaces

Planning Liveable Communities (a planning blog), has an excellent posting on July 10 titled. "Boston Places, Great and Horrid". The article starts:

It was a beautiful summer Sunday today here in New England, and Boston was swarming with both locals and tourists eager to enjoy the weather. Parks, streets and neighborhoods were packed with pedestrians - in fact, I overheard a tourist nearby comment, "Boston is a walker-friendly city." Indeed!

Yet this is what Boston’s City Hall Plaza looked like at lunchtime today [picture shows empty plaza].

We, and many others comment frequently about the design parameters required for a lively city. Density is a factor, but if we shorten ourselves on the design side, we will just get ugly density. We need to incorporate landscaping (lots of the soft variety, to hide the hardscape), a sense of enclosure while still being outside ("outdoor rooms" set apart form the large open "plaza space", tree shaded streets, smaller (intimate) spaces, human scale, unique settings where people can just hang out and watch the happenings.

We think about the "5 Points Plaza" space. What if this were designed so that several smaller spaces could be delineated (ideally with shade trees and shrubs), yet could operate as an open space when an event was scheduled (Reading Festival, Art Show). People living in the downtown condos could have an easily accessible, lively outdoor space. Residents and visitors alike would be drawn to such a lively place. Street vendors might find enough customers to offer a hot or cold drink or something to eat. This could be a very special gathering space.

Over on Lemon, the wide open plaza space north of Mattison’s is always bare. Looks like the Boston photo from above - concrete, open, bare. When there is an event (Friday After 5, Farmer’s Market, etc) lots of people mill around. But the lack of shade, places to sit and an "enclosed space", keep it empty most of the time. This could also be a very lively place given a few amenities.

South on Lemon, at the intersection of Lemon and Pineapple intersection is a small "plaza" with a fountain and some nice benches. I have never seen anyone sitting in this place. Obviously it needs something else to act as a gathering space. For starters, some nice shade trees might tempt a few people to spend some time there.

Planning Liveable Communities has other insight:

A liveable neighborhood has more than a place to live and a place to work. It’s got another place - a third place, as CoolTown Studios explains, noting Ray Oldenburg's book on the topic – an appealing community gathering place, not for official events, but to hang out. That’s what Cheers was; that’s what the Central Perk coffee shop and the diner were in Seinfeld.

We could use a few "third places" in downtown Sarasota as well as in other parts of our town.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Hurricane Monitoring

For an up close commentary of the Pensacola hurricane encounter, take a look at the series of postings on the Pensacola Beach Blog. They are now without power but their commentary will resume when they are able. We all hope that their community comes out of this event with the determination to rebuild and keep going.

A Sarasota Housing Bright Spot

On Sunday, over 100 people gathered to dedicate eight new Habitat for Humanity homes in Sarasota. These houses are the latest in an on-going plan to build more than 60 homes at the Jordan’s Crossing site near Tuttle and 12th St.

Habitat for Humanity’s home ownership program is one of the few bright spots in Sarasota’s high priced real estate market. Here at Jordan’s Crossing, low income families can realize the dream of home ownership. Volunteers bring dollars and labor to help purchase materials and help construct very nice homes. The new homeowners also work on the construction of their home and pay for remaining costs. This is a program that works here in Sarasota as well as around the country and the world.

Local dignitaries attending the ceremony included Congresswoman Katherine Harris, County Commissioner Paul Mercier, City Commissioner Danny Bilyeu and Sarasota HUD Director Bill Russell. Habitat’s Sarasota leaders included Ron Feller, President and John Schaub, Development Director. Many volunteers attended and saw their hard work and support efforts pay off in the happy faces of the new home owners.

We wish continued success to Habitat for Humanity in Sarasota. Their efforts and successes help build our community. Because of their efforts we now have eight new home owners that likely would have always been priced out of our housing market.

Habitat for Humanity dedication ceremony. July 10, 2005, Sarasota.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Stalking in Sarasota

For those of you that read only the local SHT, check this story about Sarasota. I doubt you will find it elsewhere. Nicely done Logan!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Back to Our Roots

Save Our Sarasota formed out of a desire to save the wonderful trees we have downtown. A new code and the dramatic development that is underway have put extreme pressure on these, our existing trees.

A couple weeks ago, a consultant, who has been researching Sarasota County tree canopy changes over the past several decades, gave a "tailored" presentation to the City Commissioners. He concentrated mostly on changes to the city’s canopy during the time frame studied.

Raymond Kurz of PBS&J presented research results that indicated that in the City of Sarasota:
  • From '75 to '86 we lost 33% of our tree canopy
  • From '86 to '93 we gained 4% of canopy
  • From '93 to '02 we lost 4% of canopy

Mr Kurz indicated it was possible that the canopy had "stabilized' in the last decade.

The primary forces causing the loss of canopy in the county are increasing agriculture and increasing development.

East of I-75, canopy cover has been reduced from about 80% to 60% over the time frame studied. Also it appeared that this canopy had stabilized.

West of I-75, the canopy coverage dropped from 60% to 35%.

In the City, during the time frame of '93 to '02, it appears that we are seeing growth of existing trees at a 4-6% annual rate. The existing canopy coverage is 17-18% and he would suggest 40% as an achievable target. The increase in growth has been primarily along streets.

Compared to Tampa, Sarasota has a low canopy coverage. We are also below the American Forest guidelines for cities.

Using the American Forest Model for economic benefit of tree canopy, it was suggested that we have an annual benefit of $7.7M (primarily energy benefits). If stormwater runoff benefits are included this increases to $19M per year.

It was pointed that tree canopy is particularly efficient in attenuating the first 1" of rainfall. Rainfall events larger than 1" will still require added mitigation.

It was also suggested that the City establish tree canopy goals and include these in the Comprehensive Plan.

Save Our Sarasota would strongly encourage the City to adopt tree canopy goals and include these in our Comprehensive Plan. We need to find the resources to increase our tree canopy. The return on this investment will be significant.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Sampling the Local Flavor

Here’s an original idea. "Sarasota Originals," the group of restaurants listed below, are all local suncoast establishments. They have banded together to promote the fact that they are unique and local. While this is part of a marketing campaign (trying to compete against the chain restaurants) it carries a larger message - these and other local businesses make up the unique fabric of Sarasota (and nearby communities).

During the summer doldrums, these businesses struggle as many of their clientele head north for a cool time. Why not help our local businesses by patronizing them and supporting their unique place in our community. Many of these restaurants have summer specials as an added bonus. Get to know them, they live here and are likely to be neighbors and friends.

This list, of course is not exhaustive. There are many neighborhood establishments as well as local businesses that are not part of this marketing venture. But by seeking out our local flavor, we will help insure they remain for a long time into the future. Help keep Sarasota's unique, local flavor.

15 South
Bayou Bleu
Beach House
Bijou Café
Blasé Café
Broken Egg
Café Baci
Café L'Europe

Café on the Bay
China Palace Express
Colony Restaurants
Crow's Nest

Euphemia Haye
Galileo Ristorante


Harry's Continental
Hillview Grill

Jonathan's/Smokin' Martini
Latitude 23.5 Coffee and Tea
Lynches Pub & Grub
Manhattan Bar & Grill
Marie's Italian Kitchen

Mattison's City Grille
Mattison's Siesta Grille
Mattison's Steak House
Maureen's Palm Grille


Michael's On East

Selva Grill
Siesta Key Oyster Bar
Silver Cricket
Sun House Restaurant &

Monday, July 04, 2005

Community Dialogue

In Sunday’s lead editorial in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, the editors say:
Every American city and county needs good government in order to establish and maintain a pleasant quality of life for the vast majority of its people. But government cannot create communities or good citizens. It is up to individuals, and the associations they form, to fashion a sense of community and promote causes that benefit the greater good. In strong cities and counties, governments, communities and citizens take additional steps -- forming partnerships, engaging in dialogue, leading when necessary and following when beneficial.

We couldn’t agree more fully. Thoughtful, well researched dialogue concerning civic well being is the key to a quality lifestyle for all. Sarasota is fortunate to have many excellent institutions that are willing and able to positively contribute to our community.

One of these, SCOPE, has engaged the community in discussions on a number of issues we face. SCOPE's methodology starts with researching the issue, then looks for best practices and tries to find ways to apply this knowledge to our community. SCOPE has been very successful in these endeavors and is a model well worth following.

Save Our Sarasota tries to follow this model. We engage in public discourse, we formulate a position on a topic that we believe Sarasotans have a high degree of concern about, and we try to find better ways to move forward. Along the way, we point out "mistakes" we believe have been made. We do this in an attempt to show the effect of changes that have been allowed with apparently little discussion or community involvement.

As we move into our second year of existence, we would hope that our discussions with civic leaders have been fruitful. We believe Save Our Sarasota has been the spark for some change that is positive. We will continue to fashion a sense of community and promote causes that benefit the greater good.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Save Our Sarasota Has A Birthday

Dear Friends,

This month, Save Our Sarasota is celebrating its First Birthday!

From the very beginning, when concerned citizens filled the Selby Library meeting room to capacity, you told us our primary focus should be saving trees and opposing runaway growth downtown. We are working to meet those challenges. And as issues have arisen a common purpose has become clear---we are protecting public space that is being gifted for development.

The survival of trees on public sidewalks, the massive downtown arcades and three stories of habitable space to be built in the public air rights above the sidewalks, proposed privatization of Five Points Park, the idea of a Conference Center on public bayfront property, the possible vacation of State Street for a regional shopping mall, the taking away of newly planted green space on Lemon Avenue, the intrusion of the porte cochere at 100 Central into the very roadway…and more…ALL are issues of publicly owned space.

If you are interested in any of these issues, please write or call to let us know you want to help. We need more working members, and some of the simplest tasks are important to our success. Planning programs, making phone calls, copying reports, ordering and picking up documents from City Hall….are all valuable help we could use. Knowing your preferences on programs is very important to us. We plan another public meeting this July. Please call Carol Reynolds at 362-9779 to volunteer.

Lastly, we are very proud of our new Save Our Sarasota blog. SRQ Magazine recently cited it as one of the best local blogs. It is an intelligent and lively take on current issues and a daily "must read" for a lot of us. Be sure to look at not only the most current posting, but previous articles and pictures, all cached on the site. It can be accessed at

We thank you for caring about the future of our wonderful city. We all regret what has been lost, but there is much to save. We all look forward to an even more active "Year Two" for Save Our Sarasota.

Janice Green
Save Our Sarasota

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Eyes on the Garage, Back to the Street

"Eyes on the street", is a phrase coined by the legendary urban sociologist, Jane Jacobs, in her landmark book: Death and Life of Great American Cities. This phrase is fundamental when planners think about public safety. It is the fundamental concept for CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design).

Jane Jacobs words: "There must be eyes on the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street. The buildings on a street equipped to handle strangers and to insure the safety of both residents and strangers, must be oriented to the street. They cannot turn their backs or blank sides on it and leave it blind. The sidewalk must have users on it fairly continuously, both to add to the number of effective eyes on the street and to induce a sufficient number of people in buildings along the street to watch the sidewalks."

Where do you suppose the designers of Whole Foods in downtown Sarasota came up with the idea that having blank walls (adorned by some artistically placed paint) on three sides of their building makes for good urban design? No windows, just walls. How did our Planning staff decide to agree with this? How did our CRA Advisory Board and Commissioners decide to give an incentive in terms of TIF dollars for this "walkable, street friendly" addition to downtown? Did they once again succumb to the developer’s pretty pictures that have no relationship to reality?

Maybe I am too cynical. I guess having the front entrance on an alley with a parking garage entrance across the alley makes up for poor design. This certainly put eyes on the parking garage. Maybe this is part of the new smart growth movement or our smart code? It certainly "smarts" when I think about this design.

I guess I need to keep searching urban design best practices for this principle: "eyes on the garage, back to the street". I just haven’t come across it yet.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Leadership and Vision - Here's an Excellent View

Neil Pierce is a nationally syndicated columnist who writes about various issues. A recent column focuses on a major issue facing Sarasota - housing and our sense of place. An excerpt from Pierce’s column written while attending the Urban Land Institute's World Cities Forum in London last week:

"I can't think of one U.S. national politician who mentions cities or urban environment in any meaningful way," noted Urban Land Institute President Richard Rosan. "Not one of them is out there talking seriously about critical issues of transportation and housing, metropolitanwide planning, viability of communities — all ways that national government, even without dictating quite the way London does, could at least encourage a more secure and livable urban future."

Like the amazing run-up of housing costs that started around such U.S. hot spots as San Francisco and Boston and is now spreading nationwide, the London metro region escalation means fantastic wealth gain for some, but housing unaffordability for millions more.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott vows not to repeat the errors; he talks instead of "sustainable" communities that don't just incorporate good environmental standards but assure a sense of place, low crime, transportation choices, citizen participation, economic development and "life chances for all." Such places, he argues, "create superb buildings and open spaces — where people want to be together and feel real pride in their own community."

Prescott's premier test of a sustainable community: housing opportunities and a welcome mat for people of many income groups. He sees deep divisions of income and class as the scourge of our time, to be attacked aggressively with public power and the public purse.

It's a stunning vision, extraordinarily tough to execute, even by a determined national government. The tragedy is that we Americans aren't even dreaming it."

Quite the vision indeed. You’d think maybe our leaders would think in these terms instead of the more narrow "local entity" role they only consider. You’d also think that maybe our state and national representatives would get a clue about what the real domestic issues are, instead of listening only to the big time lobbyists about issues that will make them more money. You might even think our local leaders would be pushing for these solutions for these very issues: transportation, housing, viable communities - all connected on a regional basis.

Unless we have a vision that includes all of us, we will stay stuck in the quagmire. Many Floridians and even Sarasotans see themselves primarily as keepers of the tourism economy and profiteers in the land business. We need to see ourselves as a community of people from many backgrounds and economic levels that contribute to the community in a wide variety of ways. We can not afford to include only the wealthiest. We need to find a place for all the community contributors. We will all be richer because of it.

Where is our leadership? What does their vision include? Is it a vision for all of us or can only select groups buy into it?