Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Pineapple Square Decision Time?

We keep hearing that the city may be ready to move forward with the Pineapple Square decision. We also hear that the CRA Advisory Board has given no input.

We hope Tuesday’s commission meeting is exploratory in nature and doesn’t give the "full speed ahead" signal without doing all the homework. The commission has been stung twice recently by the perceived need to go forward with limited information. Both the Plaza Verdi and Orange Dolphin proposals have resulted in harsh reactions and calls for the city manager to resign. As we noted yesterday, if the reasoning for a decision is not clearly communicated, troubled waters lay ahead. The residents of Sarasota have much higher expectations than a slick selling job on yet another high end condo/retail proposal.

The Duany Plan observes that experience with other cities of similar size and circumstances indicates that large scale retail is not likely to be a financially feasible option for downtown Sarasota, though this retail "may be desirable to anchor different sectors of Main Street." The plan strongly urges a well-designed, in depth retail study of downtown be made. Has this been done and will the results of the study be an important element in the upcoming decision making process?

Does the city’s retail plan call for Pineapple Avenue to be downtown Sarasota’s focal point? What of our theater district and bustling downtown restaurants and shops that have contributed so faithfully to the revitalization and vibrancy of downtown? Perhaps they deserve a large parking garage on Palm Avenue to serve their patrons, with some retail as part of the mix and, if possible, some affordable units. As one of the Palm Avenue business owners asked, in a letter to the editor recently, "Do we really need more high end condos?" He then suggested Sarasota take care of and appreciate those already here as it also looks to the future and encourages new arrivals.

If this were a private sector only development, the free market would take care of questions of risk/competition, etc. But when public assets are to be expended, such as in the Pineapple Square proposal, which requires significant public land and dollars and the vacation of a public street, how does the commission ascertain these assets will be used to support the highest and best public use, benefit as large a constituency as possible, and that risk will be at a minimum?

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