Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Downtowns and Prosperity

From an article in The Economist:

San Jose has attempted to create a commercial heart by selling city-owned land or even giving it away to developers. The city offers tax breaks and uses a portion of the property tax to pay for improvement projects. Since the late 1970s the redevelopment agency has shelled out $2 billion, almost two-thirds of it on downtown. It has built museums and theatres to lure people to the centre. Trams have been supplied to entice them out of their cars.

Such largesse has indisputably made the middle of San Jose more appealing than it used to be. By any measure other than an historical one, though, the campaign has been a failure. The office vacancy rate in downtown stands at 21%—higher than it was four years ago, during the dotcom slump, and almost twice as high as the Silicon Valley average. The theatres, which were supposed to lift downtown, now depend on the council to bail them out of trouble. In a city of 912,000 people, just 30,000 passengers ride trams each day. All this in a wealthy metropolis that has higher house prices than anywhere else in America, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Despite its anaemic condition, most visitors to San Jose at least know where downtown is. That is not the case in Las Vegas. The historical centre, with its string of small casinos and its neon cowboy, once seemed glitzy. It is now a shadow of the Las Vegas Strip, which has grown dementedly since the late 1980s, building ever larger, more exuberant hotels. Despite offering better odds than their competitors, the downtown casinos took in $630m last year, compared with $6.7 billion on the Strip. And they are the brightest spots in the area. Beside them lie cheap motels, shuttered shops and bail bondsmen.

The article is titled "Where the lights aren't bright." It is worth reading.

Friday, March 16, 2007

A Major Tree Issue

Trees sacrificed for more roadway
By Jack Gurney-Pelican Press

Nobody knows for sure just how many trees Sarasota County has sacrificed so it can widen a 1.8-mile stretch of Bahia Vista Street to four lanes, but the current estimate exceeds 1,700 for a project that is costing taxpayers more than $27 million.

"This was a tough one on the trees," conceded David Godson, a county forester. "There were tons of them in the construction area and not much hope to preserve any in the right-of-way.

We looked after those that had the potential to be saved."

This is a disturbing issue that we face too many times in our city and county. We talk about the need to preserve the environment, global warming, storm water run-off and the nutrients that come with it and the negative effect on Sarasota Bay, yet development pressure takes hold and we remove precious tree canopy.

The full Pelican story can be accessed here.

A sad day for all of us.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Trees and North Port

North Port is in south Sarasota County - it is one of the fastest growing areas of Florida. The following story highlights one of the growth issues:

Article published Mar 8, 2007 in the Sarasota Herald Tribune

NORTH PORT -- City hall insiders know it as the battle between "the tree people" and "the builders.

"The dispute is what you would expect: conserving vs. building. But this squabble isn't as simple as it sounds.

Not in a place where the transformation from a sleepy town into a booming community of big-box stores and $400,000 homes affects everyday life and where roads can't be built, repaired or widened fast enough.

Perhaps no issue better illustrates the friction between the people who think things are changing too fast and those who say development is the key to North Port's future than the yearlong effort to draft a tree ordinance.

Conservationists say they're trying to bring a responsible sense of environmental stewardship to the city.Builders and some city leaders view their efforts as unrealistic and a threat to North Port's economic engine.

And while some portray the conflict as environmentalists vs. builders, the city has not been on the sidelines. In 2002, it sent out mailers telling residents that a proposed tree protection law which assessed fees for protected trees removed during new development would weaken tree protection, not improve it.

"There's a misconception that every builder clear-cuts every lot that they can," said Paul Morgan of the North Port Contractors Association. "I think you've got some people who are very passionate about their trees and I can understand it to a point -- because I love trees.

"The finger-pointing began last year when the city decided the best way to quell the feud was to appoint an equal number of tree people and builders on the Blue Ribbon Ad-Hoc Tree Committee.

The eight-member board was asked to craft an ordinance that would set steeper fines for illegally clearing land and propose other preservation standards.

But what was intended to be a collaborative effort quickly fell apart when the builders quit the committee.

Instead of scrapping the committee, additional tree enthusiasts were added to replace the departed builders. Then, last month, the city commission dissolved the committee and directed city staff to draft an ordinance, a decision that has some tree committee members claiming the city never took them seriously in the first place.

In the News - The Hits Keep On Coming

Time Magazine's on line version has a story about the demolition of Paul Rudolph buildings. Included is a reference to Riverview High School here in Sarasota:

And Riverview High School in Sarasota, Fla., the city where Rudolph started his career in the 1940 and '50s, is now in danger of being sacrificed for a parking lot.

Check the entire story at this link. There is also a reference to the NY Times article about the same issue a couple days ago.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Arts Tour

The Fine Arts Society of Sarasota offers the opportunity on March 16-17 to purchase artwork as you visit the home studios of photographer Steven Katzman, painters Olivia Braida and Julie Trigg, sculptor Frank Colson, potter Ann Darling and collector Carolyn Michel.

Also, a Galleria of nine local artists formerly featured on FASS tours:
Jack Dowd
Dee Winterhalter
Ki Woon Hu
Bill Buchman
Larry Forgard
John and Suzie Seerey-Lester
Adrianne Winer
Peppi Elona

will be presented in the Crossley Gallery at the Ringling School of Art as part of this self-guided tour between 10-4 each day.

Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at the artist's homes or the following locations:

Van Wezel Box Office
Ace Hardware - all stores
Davidson Drugs - all locations
Blue Line, 301 N.Central
BOX Furniture Boutique, 1417 1ST ST
Metro Coffee & Wine Café, 711 S. Osprey
State of the Art Gallery, 1525 State St
Gallery of Colleen Cassidy Berns, 4613 S. Tamiami
Piper Collectibles, Coral Cove Mall, 8419 S. Tamiami
Sarasota Enchanted Flowers,
Plaza at Palmer Ranch, 8419 S. Tamiami

Longboat Key Art Center, 6868 S.Longboat Dr.
Exit Art - all 3 locations

Davidson Drugs, all locations

Kemery’s Hallmark, 8322 Market St

Paper Pad 213 W. Venice Ave
Venice Art Center 390 S. Nokomis Ave

Call 941-330-0680 for information.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Seagate Story

The Cincinnati Enquirer has an article about the Crosley Mansion - Seagate. Excerpts are below.

If you're heading to see the Reds spring training in Sarasota, Fla., plan a visit to the beautifully restored mansion of former Reds owner Powel Crosley Jr.

The Cincinnati industrialist, inventor, automaker and WLW-AM founder built the lavish 21-room Mediterranean-style home in 1929, five years before he purchased his hometown baseball team.

Called Seagate, it was nestled among pine trees on picturesque Sarasota Bay.

Today it's hidden by the new University of South Florida campus on former Crosley property along the Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41). The Crosley mansion is easily overlooked by vacationers who instead flock to the estate of Crosley's friend and next-door neighbor, circus owner and art collector John Ringling.

But Seagate definitely is worth trying to find on Wednesdays, when free public tours are available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Inside, visitors will see the original pecky cypress ceiling beams and Italian tile floor in the living room where Powel and his wife, Gwendolyn, entertained guests for 10 years, until she died in 1939.

Upstairs they'll see Crosley's round wood-paneled nautical-themed office, with a ceiling wind-direction arrow connected to a rooftop weathervane.

Thanks to My Florida History for discovering this article. There is lots of interesting information at the My Florida History blog site.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Growth Control

Orlando Sentinel article.

Sierra Club backs push to let voters rule growth

The group's $35,000 gift boosts Florida Hometown Democracy, which business groups decry.

Kevin Spear Sentinel Staff Writer Posted March 1, 2007

Backers of a statewide proposal to give voters ultimate authority over new subdivisions, shopping centers and other future growth received a $35,000 contribution and vows of vigorous support from one of Florida's largest environmental groups Wednesday.

The Florida Chapter of the Sierra Club stepped firmly behind the Florida Hometown Democracy campaign, which aims to gather enough voter signatures to put a proposed constitutional amendment on next year's ballot. If passed, local politicians would have to win voter approval to change growth-planning guidelines.

"I think more and more people are becoming outraged by how we are growing," said John Hedrick, Sierra chairman for growth issues, who announced his group's support in Tallahassee. "I think people feel cut out of the planning process."

Hedrick said the Sierra Club in Florida has 18 local groups with a combined membership of more than 30,000. Each group has pledged to secure thousands of voter signatures.

Ross Burnaman, co-founder of the movement, said the proposal needs about 611,000 verified signatures by early next year. So far, Hometown Democracy has gathered 250,000 signatures, and about 110,000 have been approved by county elections supervisors, he said.

The proposal has drawn the ire of business associations and interest groups. Among them, the Florida Chamber of Commerce has launched a campaign that mocks the proposal as a "Hometown Democracy Scam."

"It would mean no new jobs and no new roads in Florida," said Adam Babington, coalition director at the chamber in Tallahassee. "It would turn every growth decision into a negative political campaign."

Florida Hometown backers said that kind of reaction stems from fears among development interests that the proposed amendment would make it harder to maximize profits.

"I think the Florida Chamber of Commerce is a little hysterical," said Lesley Blackner, the other co-founder of Hometown Democracy. "It's not a scam; it's about letting people vote. Maybe they don't want endless [population] density crammed down their throats."

Burnaman, of Tallahassee, and Blackner, of Palm Beach County, are land-use and environmental lawyers who joined together in 2003 to start Florida Hometown Democracy.

Voters can get ballot-petition forms online at florida hometowndemocracy.com or by calling toll-free 1-866-779-5513.

The initial effort to get on the 2006 ballot was struck down in 2005 by the state Supreme Court, which ruled that the proposed amendment's language did not meet legal requirements. The two lawyers regrouped later in 2005 with revised language that went on to win approval.

Another obstacle to the initiative emerged last year when Florida voters decided that future ballot questions must gain at least 60 percent support to be approved, rather than the simple majority that long had been the standard.

Still, observers say the proposal has a good chance of getting on the 2008 ballot and perhaps a better chance of winning approval.

"I think if it were on the ballot today it would pass easily," said University of South Florida political-science professor Susan MacManus, adding that resentment for growth is "strengthening day by day.

"If voters approve Florida Hometown Democracy, her worry is whether people would vote on complex growth issues.

"Local elections have low turnout, and I think you might have critical decisions being made by people with an agenda," MacManus said.

Tom Drage, lead attorney for Orange County government, said he is concerned about whether voters will want to inform themselves on many complicated issues.

In the past four years, Orange County has reviewed 262 applications for changes in growth plans and approved 125. Those vary from wording changes to reclassifications for intense development.

Tim Jackson, an Orlando planning consultant and vice president of the controlled-growth advocacy group 1000 Friends of Florida, said his organization is concerned Florida Hometown Democracy will turn local planning into popularity contests based on who has the most cash for marketing campaigns.

"We're not promoting it," Jackson said. "We are promoting people being engaged actively in their community."

The Central Florida think tank myregion.org, which has business and government backing, recently conducted a survey asking residents to pick from among alternative visions for managing a population that could double to more than 7 million residents by 2050.

Hedrick of the Sierra Club said the survey suggested that such growth in inevitable."That's poppycock," he said. "They are not asking the fundamental question of, 'Is that what the people of Florida want?' "

Thursday, March 01, 2007


The Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation is proud to present the 17th Annual Historic Homes Tour on Sunday, March 4th from 11 AM to 5 PM.

This year’s tour will feature five delightful residences within their neighborhood context. Neighborhoods are an important part of Sarasota’s historical setting and help to define our city’s character, beauty and unique identity. Two homes are located in the Avondale Neighborhood, south of Hudson Bayou, and another three in the Grove Heights neighborhood.

“Teardown of historic homes has plagued the nation’s urban areas and affects us in Sarasota as well” states Alliance President, Christopher Wenzel on the decision to emphasize the neighborhood theme. “One by one, teardowns and larger scale replacements take an individual pearl from our string of pearls.”

1905 Alta Vista Street
The William and Bessie Pearsall House is a two story Mediterranean Style residence. Designed and built by local prominent architect Thomas Reed Martin in 1925, the home reflects the style and living standard of the time. It also embodies the history of economic expansion in the city of Sarasota. In 1928, the Pearsalls lost the home to foreclosure. The home was then sold to William and Emma Geiger and Bessie Pearsall transferred the furnishings of the house to the Geigers for $700.

1124 Brewer Place
This two story bungalow design features Moorish and Italianate influences – most notably the large square tower and parapet of the front façade. The building is thought to have been constructed for utility purposes, serving either as a pump house or fire station in the 1930’s and 40’s. An early plat map of the Avondale Subdivision shows the undersized lot between adjacent corner lots on the block adding to the theory it was not originally intended as a residence.

1828 Grove Street
The Edward H. Knight Residence is a one story wood frame bungalow with detached garage. Possibly moved to the property, the residence appears on the 1936 tax rolls when the property ownership was transferred from Ella Cobb to Edward Knight. Ella Cobb is thought to have been the wife of real estate developer, J. Paul Cobb, brother of the illustrious baseball player, Ty Cobb. An interesting feature of the home is beneath the trap door in the rear hallway. It leads to a small concrete room that was once a cistern for the collection of rainwater.

1936 Grove Street
This 1925 one story bungalow with detached garage, known as the Westmore Tenant house and Smith brewer Home, a Spanish eclectic style residence incorporates qualities of Spanish, Colonial, Byzantine, Moorish, Mission and Italianate styles. It represents the American democratic ideal of the emerging middle class, providing quality low-cost housing with excellent craftsmanship.

1919 Grove Street
The Ryan Garner Residence, a one story cross gabled Spanish bungalow, represents typical home construction during the Florida Land Boom. The home was purchased in 1926, following the October hurricane, by the family of Dan Ryan, a mortgage broker from Cleveland, Ohio. Other prominent local owners of the property include Frank Binz, Jr. of Binz and Lambert Construction and Edgar Allen Garner, who served as Chief of Police for the City of Sarasota from 1933 to 1949. Interior furnishings are exquisite and the home was recently featured in “Romantic Living” magazine.

The $20 tickets can be purchased in advance at Davidson Drugs, Main Books, Sarasota News and Books, The Sarasota County History Center, Sarasota Architectural Salvage and Historic Spanish Point. Tickets may also be purchased the day of the tour at any of the tour homes.

The mission of the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation is to preserve and enhance our historic places. We invite you to celebrate Sarasota’s rich architectural heritage and diversity by visiting these beautiful homes in their historic neighborhoods. For more information, call the Alliance at 941-953-8727.