(We reprint Carl Abbott's recent editorial in the SHT)
Trees, not looming arcades, are best for Sarasota's downtown
Recently the Herald-Tribune published an article on arcades, which are now allowed in Sarasota's downtown core. It is important to understand that under the Downtown Code (Building Design Standards) as presently written, arcades are allowed to have above them up to three floors of living area projecting out and covering our public sidewalks.
These arcades are not appropriate for the downtown core for a number of reasons and specifically not for Main Street, which is very narrow.
Arcades can be appropriate, but only when the width of the street is generous enough in relationship to the height of the buildings along the street. For Sarasota, the main reason for allowing these four-story structures over the public sidewalk was to visually reduce the scale of the 10-story structures that can be built along Main Street. However, given Main's narrow width, a tunnel effect is being created. Trees along Main Street are the ideal solution for visually reducing the scale of the taller buildings.An advantage of arcades for Sarasota, we are told, is that the arcades will block sun.
Again, the existing trees give a much better solution of filtered sunlight and allow the sun when we want it in the winter. The arcades not only block the sun, they create dark, shadowed areas with poor security and limited visibility to shop windows. They also create wind tunnels. Where arcades are installed existing trees must be removed; we could lose most of the trees on Main.
The Tunnel Effect: We can see this starting to happen -- realize that the full run of Main Street can have 10-story buildings. Go to Main between the Orange Blossom Hotel and Epicure Café and look toward Five Points. The 1350 Main St. high-rise condo has constructed its four-story arcade over the sidewalk. Imagine this same configuration extending up both sides of Main with a very limited number of trees remaining.
Arcades are not only opposed by the "Save Our Sarasota" group; they are also opposed by a number of professional groups, including the Gulf Coast Chapter of the American Institute of Architects' Government Affairs Committee, the Sarasota Architectural Foundation and architects from all over Florida who took part in a charrette on this Sarasota Downtown Code.Currently, arcades pose a strong incentive for developers to gain extra square footage over our sidewalks. Under the current code every building is required to have a 12-foot setback (recess) for all levels above the fourth floor. Building an arcade on Main Street, where the sidewalks are 12 feet wide, would give a developer an advantage, as most of this required 12-foot setback is over our public sidewalk and has little effect on the marketable area of the main building. With a building without an arcade, the result is a significant loss of marketable square footage. The code, in effect, penalizes building proposals without arcades and rewards developments that incorporate arcades over our public sidewalks.
As an architect and planner, I have worked in Sarasota for more than 40 years, and I welcome positive, creative changes that can happen here. I have taught planning and architecture in a number of universities, including Harvard's Graduate School, and I am fully aware that to become a vibrant small city, we must have a dense urban core.
However, arcades should not be allowed in our downtown, as they compromise the quality of streets -- as with our Main Street.The city commissioners said the Downtown Code is open to change. I understand that the commissioners are concerned with the stark building condition that is happening along Fruitville Road, our main downtown connector corridor, and that they are considering widening the sidewalk and planting trees. I applaud them for recognizing the problem and taking action.Arcades now allowed on Main Street would create a similar, greatly magnified, stark/harsh condition that should be stopped now.
We have in our small city an amazing number of exciting and creative arts. Our built environment can also be exciting and creative. Downtown can be a vibrant, alive urban space filled with people, trees and sunlight -- an exciting environment that our children and grandchildren can enjoy.