Local Resorts Make Condé Nast Traveler’s 2019 List

top resortsThree local resorts have been honored by Condé Nast Traveler readers as part of the magazine’s readers’ choice list of the top 30 resorts in Florida.

The Zota Beach Resort, Ritz-Carlton Sarasota and The Resort at Longboat Key Club all made the magazine’s 2019 list released this week. Condé Nast Traveler readers voted their favorite Florida resorts outside of the Keys and the Orlando area to make the rankings.

The Zota Beach Resort at 4711 Gulf of Mexico Drive in Longboat Key snagged the list’s 15th spot. The hotel, formerly known as the the Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort, underwent renovations and added a new 84-room tower in 2018.

The name “Zota” was unveiled in 2015, and at the time owner Ocean Properties explained the name change like this:

“Zota is believed to be a native word meaning ‘blue waters.’ The word ‘zara’ may be a Spanish reference to Sahara-like sands, and as the name of the area evolved over time, Longboat Key and the surrounding area became known as ‘Zara Zota,’” or “Sahara by the blue waters.”

“It is an honor to receive this recognition from Condé Nast Traveler readers. Our team is proud of this recognition and hope to continue exceeding expectations every day,” Roy Padgett, general manager of Zota Beach Resort, said in an emailed statement. “We are incredibly thankful for our guests and want to ensure a memorable experience happens with every visit.”

Also on the list is the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota at No. 18. The Ritz, a luxury hotel in downtown Sarasota overlooking the bay, has 266 guest rooms, a private beach on Lido Key, a spa, a golf club, about 60,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, a 12,000-square-foot ballroom (the largest in Sarasota) and two restaurants — Jack Dusty and Ridley’s Porch.

The Resort at Longboat Key Club came in at No. 20. The resort, just north of St. Armands Circle at 220 Sands Point Road, has 218 guest rooms and suites, a spa, on-site dining, tennis and golf.

The No. 1 resort on the Condé Nast List is the JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa.

Other nearby resorts on the list are:

Gasparilla Inn & Club in Boca Grande (No. 3)

the Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina in Fort Myers (No. 4)

Sandpearl Resort in Clearwater Beach (No. 8)

The Don CeSar in St. Pete Beach (No. 9)

LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort in Naples (No. 14)

The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club (No. 19)

Sarasota Herald-Tribune October 9, 2019

America’s Best Places to Live – Sarasota Florida

Sarasota, Florida

#34 in Best Places to Live | Overall Score 6.7 / 10

#3 in Best Places to Retire | Overall Score 7.4 / 10

What’s it like to live in Sarasota, FL?

Warm temperatures year-round, award-winning beaches and a thriving arts and cultural scene have made Sarasota a go-to place for retirees and families, not to mention a handful of celebrities. This southwest Florida region, which is about an hour from Tampa and two hours from Orlando, continues to attract new residents with great restaurants and plenty of shopping options.

Living in Sarasota has elements of what many consider paradise, mixed with some hints of reality. As the population grows, the area struggles to keep up with infrastructure needs. Traffic congestion is becoming more common. Those who live, work or visit downtown Sarasota will see their share of construction cranes as the region copes with an influx of residents and a record-breaking number of tourists.

However, as the Sarasota community flourishes, so does its economy. Sarasota offers a sizable job market for those working in health care, small business and tourism.


U.S. News analyzed 125 metro areas in the United States to find the best places to live based on quality of life and the job market in each metro area, as well as the value of living there and people’s desire to live there.

Best places to live


What’s the cost of living in Sarasota, FL?

Sarasota is relatively affordable compared to larger Florida regions like Miami, though young families are finding it increasingly harder to buy a home at a reasonable cost. The continuing influx of wealthy residents has affected the cost of housing, as there has been more of a focus on upscale living.

Housing Costs this Year



What’s the weather like in Sarasota, FL?

Although heat and humidity are a regular part of life in South Florida, that doesn’t stop many people from enjoying the area’s outdoor activities, such as golfing, boating and fishing. Still, residents know to keep their umbrellas handy for the fierce rain storms that usually pass through from April to October.

Seasonal Temperature (Avgs)









What’s the best way to get around Sarasota, FL?

The majority of people in Sarasota get around by car, and traffic is becoming more of an issue as new residents and visitors come to town. Year-round residents will tell you it can take almost twice as long to get places during the winter tourist season.

The region has a bus system, the Sarasota County Area Transit, or SCAT, which is seeing an increasing number of users. The bus system is fairly extensive, but heavy traffic can cause schedule delays. Sarasota has some neighborhoods that are particularly pedestrian-friendly, such as downtown, the Rosemary district, St. Armand’s Circle and Southside Village.

The Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport connects residents to destinations in the U.S. and abroad. Residents also have access to intercity bus service provided by Greyhound.

Who lives in Sarasota, FL?

Sarasota has a significant number of residents over the age of 65 and that population is predicted to increase; as you make your way around town, a silver boom is pretty evident. A retiree in Sarasota likely has a busier social calendar than someone half his or her age, as the area caters to its older residents by offering lots of activities, such as shopping and golf. This is especially true during the “in season” from October to April when snowbirds from colder climates come to enjoy Florida’s more temperate weather.

That said, families also feel at home in Sarasota, and there are plenty of good schools, clean parks and local attractions for them to enjoy.

Young single people won’t have the diversity or nightlife available as they would in a metro area like Miami. This could be advantageous for someone who likes things a little more low-key, and there still are millennials who take over Sarasota’s nighttime scene at local bars, clubs, restaurants and craft breweries.

What is there to do in Sarasota, FL?

Sarasota is a great place for those who enjoy the outdoors. There are a number of parks in downtown Sarasota, not to mention the massive Myakka River State Park. Golf courses also abound. And then, of course, there are the beaches. Siesta Beach has earned acclaim for its white sand and clear water. Lido Beach, just south of St. Armands Circle, is another wide stretch of shoreline that’s easy to access. If those get crowded (as they often do), beachgoers opt for Longboat Beach, Venice Beach, Bradenton Beach or the beaches of Anna Maria Island, all of which are a short drive from Sarasota.

Meanwhile, locals take advantage of the booming restaurant scene around town, which serves up everything from fresh seafood to farm-to-table specialties. There are also a handful of farmers markets open in the fall, winter and spring, with the Sarasota Farmers Market open all year.

What kind of jobs are there in Sarasota, FL?

Major industries in Sarasota include education, trade, transportation and, of course, tourism. Unemployment rates in the leisure and hospitality sector are several percentage points lower than the region’s overall rate (which is still slightly lower than the national average). Health care is also a prominent sector, with facilities like the Venice Regional Bayfront Health, the Englewood Community Hospital and the Doctors Hospital of Sarasota employing a large number of residents. There is also an enthusiastic small business community.

Because of a high volume of low-paying jobs in the service industry, the average annual income in Sarasota is lower than the national average.

U.S. News & World Report October 2018

Longboat’s Colony to Become St. Regis Resort

st. regis longboat key

What has been a dilapidated eye-sore, will soon be home to a five-star St. Regis Resort! Positioned to deliver a new level of luxury to Longboat Key, Unicorp proudly submitted plans for a first-class 166-room hotel that includes 102 residential units, 2 restaurants, a 15,000+ sq. ft. spa and opulent ballroom.

Southwest Florida is about to get a boost in travel luxury it hasn’t seen since the Ritz-Carlton opened in Sarasota in 2001.

Premier Beachfront Property – 1620 Gulf of Mexico Drive

St. Regis is a five-star luxury brand of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, which is part of Marriott International Inc. — the world’s largest hotel brand. There are 60 St. Regis hotels worldwide, including 11 in the United States. There is one St. Regis location in Florida — the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort in Miami.

The new plan’s maximum building height is five stories, reaching no higher than 65 feet over flood elevation, which is the maximum allowable height for new construction on the Key.

Also included in the proposal are 6,700 square feet of meeting rooms, 2,750 square feet of board rooms and a “meandering saltwater lagoon.”

“A name like St. Regis adds validity to the area in the deeply competitive travel world. The industry notices when a property like a Ritz-Carlton opens, said Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County.” She remembers being at conferences and in meetings in the months leading up to the Ritz-Carlton’s opening, and there’s a buzz that comes with it.

Two-path approach

Planning, Zoning and Building Director Alaina Ray noted that any development including more than 103 units is considered nonconforming for the property’s zoning district.

With this information, Unicorp is pursuing two regulatory paths to make the proposal a reality, each of which would require a zoning code amendment to allow the property’s existing units to be used for either tourism or residential purposes, according to the proposal.

The first path requires the use of the 165 remaining units in the town’s tourism-unit pool. Zota Beach Resort, which opened in June, used 85 of the 250 total units in the pool. Voters decided to create the pool in 2008 to allow for flexibility in development of tourism on the Key.

The second path requires 31 units from the tourism pool, then using a zoning code amendment to convert the property’s 237 grandfathered units to either tourism or residential use.

Any zoning code amendment or use of the tourism-unit pool will require approval from the Town Commission.

The earliest date the proposal could go before the Planning and Zoning Board is at the group’s Oct. 17 meeting. The board will review the plan, then forward its recommendation to the Town Commission as early as November for a decision.

Pending approval from commissioners, Whittall hopes to break ground on the project within a year.

The developer noted that he has been pursuing development of the former Colony property for five years, and during that time, he’s learned a great deal about what the people of Longboat want for the site.

Whittall said he understands residents’ concerns regarding traffic. Included in his company’s proposal is a traffic study from Kimley-Horn, which concludes that the development will have a minimal impact on peak-hour traffic. The proposal also states that the resort will implement a parking fee to “discourage hotel guests and visitors from using personal vehicles.”

In addition, Whittall’s company will be involved in implementing short- and long-term traffic solutions through the Barrier Islands Traffic Study, a $942,000 project of the Florida Department of Transportation, designed to determine ways to improve the flow of traffic to, from and on Longboat, Anna Maria Island and Lido Key.

“Unicorp will participate in the traffic study as a key stakeholder and can contribute financially once strategies are developed,” the proposal reads.

Whittall hopes the community will embrace the new plan, noting that he believes the resort will bring visitors to support businesses, raise property values and “get rid of an eyesore,” referring to the property in its current state.

“We hope to be able to move ahead with the project that we believe will be good for the community,” Whittall said.

Next Door

In April, Unicorp entered into a contract with residents of Aquarius and Tencon, the two condominiums immediately neighboring the former Colony property. The contract extends “membership privileges” for residents of the two properties in exchange for support of a Unicorp project that meets certain criteria, including a total unit count of no more than 268 total units.

Membership privileges include access to the future resort’s amenities, which in the proposal include:

– Two restaurants

– 15,700-square-foot spa

– Lounge and lounge bar

– Salt water lagoon

The Project


Observer, July 26, 2017, Herald Tribune August 4, 2017

Island Life – Sarasota’s Barrier Islands

“Live the life you have imagined.” — Henry David Thoreau

Island LifeSwaying palms, swaying hammocks, miles of white sand, calm azure waters and the warm Gulf breezes of Island Life. The escape you’re yearning for in our “tech-focused” plugged-in and over-scheduled culture and you never have to leave the country.

Florida’s Southwest Gulf Coast is the perfect location to lose yourself in an exotic paradise. Just off the mainland, Sarasota’s heralded barrier islands deliver relaxation and rejuvenation, along with some pretty great recreation when you’re ready.

Allow abundant Gulf coastline to chart your course. Whether you’re exploring via car or boat, stunning sunsets and abundant natural beauty await.

From Anna Maria, just north of Sarasota, this timeless tropical escape offers Florida “the way we remember it.” Unspoiled and artsy, where the preferred method of transportation is bicycle, you can stroll, fish, dine and relax in blissful serenity.

Travel southward from Anna Maria to the manicured island of Longboat Key. A renowned location for its golf and Gulf, this 11-mile barrier island is a premier resort destination for visitors and residents. Year-round recreation and an upscale tropical community provide exceptional tennis, boating, golf and delectable dining options. Home to the Longboat Key Club’s superior amenities and service, along with pristine Gulf beaches, Longboat Key is the place to escape to luxury.

Just south of Longboat Key, Lido Key offers a quiet respite, minutes from the entertainment of St. Armands circle and downtown Sarasota.  The cluster of Lido, Bird Key and St. Armands provide everything you could desire in relaxation, dining, entertainment, rich history and natural beauty.

The ultimate in Beach Chic awaits on Siesta Key. Home to the #1 Siesta Key Beach, this original artist colony’s casual Island appeal still attracts artists and those seeking a great coastal retreat. Known for its 99% quartz sand, there’s an intrinsic attraction among Sarasota’s holistic community; citing the qualities of the beach sand to improve physical and emotional well-being.

Further south, coveted privacy awaits on Casey Key.  Offering the allure of private island living and Old Florida charm, here you’ll find no high rises or street lights. A quiet respite, this is the place to seriously unplug from everything; watch the dolphin and manatee, take a stroll and embrace the sunset.

Sarasota – 8 Al Fresco Dining Favorites

A short journey south of Sarasota provides for great outdoor dining, fresh seafood, live music and often…the wildlife encounter you might not have been expecting. Arrive to some by boat, or paddleboard for hand-crafted cocktails and tiki bars, popular drinks for breakfast and some Caribbean/Southern fusion.

1. At Flounders Restaurant and Tiki Bar, the tiki bar, crackling fire pits, live music and water view set the mood. With pub grub fare like “Wing It,” “Bite It,” “Shuck It,” and “Build It,” the menu makes it easy. Just grab a Technicolor libation and get social. Or come for breakfast (Saturdays and Sundays) and indulge in one of the popular breakfast cocktails, like the Tiki Mary, a spicy hot powerhouse created with jalapeño-infused Ketel One vodka and garnished with blue cheese-stuffed olives, pepperoncini, jalapeño bacon and a Cajun rim. The ideal eye-opener. 1975 Beach Road, Englewood. 

2. Beach Road Wine Bar and Bistro is called Englewood’s jewel by the sea for many good reasons. A selection of more than 60 exceptional vintages, the culinary delights of a chef-driven menu, the jaw-dropping views of Lemon Bay—and the spirit of camaraderie that enlivens on the outside patio. How to add to that? On many evenings, there’s a soundtrack of live music by regional musicians. 1350 Beach Road, Englewood.

3. The inventive menu at Farlow’s on the Water marries Caribbean classics with down-home Southern cuisine. This fusion reflects the heritage of Keith Farlow, who grew up in St. Croix, and his wife, Laurie, who glories in the tastes of Dixie. Ask for a table on the comfortable outdoor patio and dig into some corn pudding or sizzling St. Croix seafood pie. You can also grab a table overlooking Ainger Creek, and watch Florida’s natural beauty unfold before your eyes. 2080 S. McCall Road, Englewood.

4. Keep your eyes peeled for gators, otters, eagles and other wild critters at Myakka River Oyster Bar Seafood Restaurant, which sits smack-dab on the Myakka River. Going on 23 years, JoAnn and Mike Stegenga have kept folks well-fed with daily specials, fresh seafood, pasta and sandwiches. Although most fish is regionally sourced, the walleye special is an exception, created from the recipe of Mike’s mother. “Lots of people from Minnesota come here just for the walleye,” says JoAnn. With just six outside tables, come early to claim your perch. 121 Playmore Drive, Venice.

5. People-watching is an art. Begin your life studies at one of Ristorante San Marco’s sidewalk tables. This charming Italian trattoria offers front row seats on fashionable Venice Avenue. Don a white suit and your jet-black Wayfarers, order a bottle of Camigliano Brunello di Montalcino and pretend you’re the star of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. Just watch out for paparazzi. 305B W. Venice Ave.

6. Envision yourself sipping a chilled Lillet on the terrace of a Monte Carlo brasserie overlooking the Mediterranean. Lost your passport? The Crow’s Nest affords you similar bliss closer to home. Kick back with a chilled fumé blanc from Sonoma and watch the pleasure boats sailing down Venice Inlet. If you’re with your special someone, order a dozen oysters from the raw bar and embark on a romantic interlude as the sun makes its sensational descent. 1968 Tarpon Center Drive, Venice.

7. The outside deck at Fins at Sharky’s boasts picture-postcard views of the Gulf of Mexico and Venice Fishing Pier, a tranquil ambiance, an award-winning menu and wine selection and sexy craft cocktails like the Cucumber Caroline with Pimms and rosemary-infused syrup. With patio fans and a retractable screen shielding wind and direct sunlight, you’ve got it made in the shade. There are only 18 outside tables, so best to reserve ahead of time. 1600 Harbor Drive S., Venice.

8. Old Florida is alive and well at the Casey Key Fish House, a bustling waterside joint in Osprey famed for its laid-back ambiance, solid seafood offerings, gorgeous views, and tiki bar with live music on the weekends. Grab a table on the deck and dig into such signature dishes as Chef Willie Tia’s raved-about bouillabaisse, mussels slathered in the house-made marinara sauce, and the conch fritters. If you’re feeling adventurous, rent a jet ski, paddleboard or kayak right on the dock. Or wander down to the beachside tiki bar and meet some new friends. 801 Blackburn Point Road, Osprey.

Sarasota Magazine, March 2017

Sarasota – The Best Place to Live

best placesSarasota is the best place in Florida to call home.
U.S. News & World Report placed the Sarasota metro area No. 21, ahead of any other place in Florida, for its 100 Best Places to Live in the USA.

Indeed, the biggest factor affecting the ranking is net migration, which ranks 10 on a one-to-10 scale of the criteria U.S. News & World Report uses to judge each metro area. Here is how the area scored in each variable:

Desirability: 8.2

Value: 5.1

Job market: 6.1

Quality of life: 7.4

Net migration: 10

Sarasota remains the only Florida city in the top 25, outpacing Tampa by 14 places. Houston, Texas scored one place ahead of Sarasota, while San Diego Calif. came in at No. 22.

What makes Sarasota so special?

Let’s take a look:

  1. Weather: You could say this about any coastal place in the state but having lived under the gray skies of Pennsylvania and in cold Colorado, let me tell you, that nearly daily dose of sunshine and utter lack of freezing cold temperatures is the No. 1 reason people from the rest of the country continue to relocate here as if we were giving away oceanfront property.
  2. Beaches: Yes, there’s a reason our sugary white sands such as the ones found on Siesta Beach are consistently ranked among the best in the country. I really didn’t appreciate this until I spent a year living on Newport Beach in Southern California, where, to quote Bill Hicks, the beach just looks like “where dirt meets water.”
  3. Restaurants: I can walk to a handful of excellent and a couple dozen really good restaurants from our office in downtown Sarasota. There’s many, many more choice spots within a short drive. It’s hard to imagine a city this size anywhere else in the country that has as many outstanding dining options. Also, let’s not forget about the award-winning Sarasota craft beers being served at these restaurants and the clever cocktails are local bartenders are creating.
  4. Arts scene: It’s also hard to imagine another city the size of Sarasota with such a vibrant arts scene. Take your pick: museums, art galleries, orchestras, opera, ballet, professional and community theater companies. Plus, our live music scene includes some of the best blues and roots rock musicians in the country. Really, we have it all.
  5. Parks and preserves: While the beaches are the celebrities, places like Phillippi Estate Park, Rothenbach Park and Celery Fields are equally charming in their own way.
  6. Things to do: Every week I easily assemble at least 10 fun things for people to do in the Sarasota area. Just looking at March we have spring training, two film festivals, and an appearance by Emmy and Tony Award winning actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth on March 12 at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, which in a single weekend last month hosted Dave Chappelle, and Steve Martin with Martin Short.
  7. Celebrities: Look, even if you never run intoStephen King at the local bookstoreor have lunch next to Jerry Springer, it’s nice to know celebrities do live here. I mean if it’s good enough for them, it must be good enough for us regular folks, right? And, who knows? I did once witness two other Sarasota celebrities, rock legends Brian Johnson (AC/Dc) and Dickey Betts (Allman Brothers Band), playing together at a fundraiser in the Five O’Clock Club!

Herald Tribune, Sarasota Observer, March 3, 2017

Water Taxi – Downtown Sarasota Transportation Solutions

The Sarasota City Commission recently voted to conditionally approve a permit for a water taxi and ferry service between Sarasota and Bradenton Beach. Sherman Baldwin, general manager of Paradise Boat Tours, presented the water taxi and ferry plan and applied for a permit under Paradise’s parent company, TevaTan LLC, in early January. On Tuesday, the commission voted to approve the permit application with the following stipulations:

  • The water ferry’s Sarasota embarkation points will be determined within a period of six months from Tuesday; and
  • Baldwin will meet with Sarasota Bayfront 20:20, a long-term planning organization, to assure the Sarasota embarkation points have enough associated parking nearby.

Baldwin’s permit application was two-fold; to allow for a scheduled water ferry service as well as an “Uber-like” water taxi, on call via a mobile app that Baldwin said his company spent “thousands” developing.

Starting the water ferry service with the Bradenton Beach-Sarasota route made the most logistical sense, Baldwin said. “If we have one successful leg, it will make it really easy to justify the risk.”  “There’s a navigational plus to it, too; it’s kind of a straight shot. From the Bridge Street Pier, you can see downtown Sarasota.”

Come fall, Baldwin wants to start more water transport service that would ferry passengers between the downtown Bradenton Riverwalk, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. Baldwin is also involved in “informal conversations” to help orchestrate a water taxi service in association with the Bradenton Area Convention Center hotel, which is set to break ground on Sept. 18.

Planned Operation
The ferry will run from the Bridge Street Pier to one of three embarkation points in Sarasota. Baldwin provided three suggested points to the Sarasota City Commission, which has the ultimate say in which of the three will be chosen. The possible destinations include the T-dock at O’Leary’s Tiki Bar & Grill, the Marina Jack boat basin, or the Centennial Park boat basin. He favors the Centennial Park option, but for it to work, a sublease must be negotiated under the current lease between the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 84 and the city of Sarasota.

The water taxi service will operate daily at a round-trip ticket cost of $12.50, with passes available for locals who frequently travel between Sarasota and Bradenton Beach. The boat will have air conditioning and heating systems, two restrooms and a small coffee cafe. The seating will be covered, but Baldwin said there will be an outside area for passengers who want to enjoy the sea breeze.

“We don’t have plans right out of the gate to serve alcohol,” Baldwin said, but passengers are allowed to bring their own beverages and food on board.

Paradise Boat Tours
Paradise Boat Tours will celebrate its fifth year in business in June. Baldwin estimates they serve 20,000 passengers per year on 90-minute narrated dolphin-spotting and sightseeing tours.

In an email to the Sarasota City Commission, Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon said TevaTan is “fully authorized to use the Bridge Street Pier, Bradenton Beach as an embarkation point for his Ferry Service.” The Manatee County Tourist Development Council also submitted a letter to the Sarasota City Commission supporting the water taxi.

John Horne, CEO of AMOB on the Pier restaurant, located on Bridge Street, said he’s “proud of what Sherman’s doing.”  “The county has already come up with a free trolley on the island so if we can get people there by water we will have less vehicles on the island and it cuts the traffic down,” Horne said. “I think it’s great to be able to connect Manatee and Sarasota and what better way to do it then across Sarasota Bay.”

Bradenton Herald, February 21, 2017



Sarasota Working on Transportation Downtown and on Siesta Key

srq-trolley-sarasota transportationCity and county leaders are on the verge of hailing new, creative efforts to reduce traffic congestion in downtown Sarasota and on Siesta Key.

In Sarasota, city leaders are nearing the end of negotiations on a deal to provide seed funding for a new electric-vehicle shuttle service around downtown.

On Siesta Key, Sarasota County Area Transit leaders are accepting bids for a company to provide a new open-air trolley service along the key from the village to Turtle Beach, with numerous stops in between.

If both plans go off without a hitch, free or cheap rides around Main Street and across most of Siesta Key could be available as early as February – ideally encouraging more visitors and local drivers to opt out of their own cars and onto the shuttle or trolley, leaders said last week.

Both ideas are years in the making and both aim to reduce traffic and open more parking spaces by giving visitors more easier, cheaper options than driving themselves to every location across the key and downtown.

“We’re getting so close now that we’re really excited this could be a really good opportunity for everybody,” SCAT spokeswoman Kendra Kiederling said.

City planners and Downtown Improvement District operations manager John Moran are finalizing negotiations this month with electric shuttle vendor Gotcha Ride. The free service would include six to nine, six-seat electric shuttles that could be hailed on a mobile app to ferry residents, visitors and workers around downtown without moving their cars.

To “kick start” the project, the city is preparing to spend $548,000 over the next two years to fund initial operations and set up the shuttles with chargers and parking in the Palm Avenue parking garage, Moran said. After two years, if the pilot program succeeds, Gotcha Ride would fund the operation by selling advertising on the cars – with design modeled after NASCAR race car sponsorships.

Gotcha Ride largely serves college campuses and operates throughout the southeast, including at Florida State University and the University of Florida, according to its website. The group is the second option after Downtowner, a similar company which established its first shuttle service in Delray Beach and is moving into Tampa later this year, decided Sarasota “wasn’t a good fit” for its service, Moran said.

“I hope, fingers crossed, we’re going to have a successful negotiation with this group” Gotcha Ride, Moran said. “They happen to have just ordered 12 vehicles, so they would be ready to go fairly quickly after City Commission approval of the contract.”

Moran hopes to present the contract and pilot program to the City Commission right after the New Year’s, which could bring shuttles to the city as soon as February.

That would be about the earliest that SCAT’s new trolley system could begin operation, too, Kiederling said. The county opened bids for that service late last month and will accept applications essentially through the end of the year.

The trolley concept – in the style of a classic city trolley, not an electric shuttle – has long been sought by the Siesta Key Association and Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce as a means to convert drivers to riders to reduce congestion.

The plan would involve consolidating one of the bus routes on the key now, stretching south along Beach and Midnight Pass roads from the village area to Turtle Beach and back, Kiederling said. The trolley would be active for about six months each year during the tourist season, she added.

“If this comes to fruition, we could get something maybe in February and March,” Kiederling said. “This next spring wouldn’t be the whole season, but we just want to get it out there and try it anyway.”

Herald Tribune December 11, 2016


How to Fall in Love with Sarasota

Boats on the beachIt starts—as scientists tell us all life did—with the sea. Standing on dazzling white sand, looking out over the vast Gulf of Mexico, you fall in love with Sarasota. And if you happen to be doing that at sunset, when the mirror-calm water shimmers with every imaginable shade of pink and gold and purple, you fall even harder. It happened to me and my friends and neighbors, and if this is your very first visit, I can pretty much guarantee it will happen to you.

But if, like me and so many thousands of others, you end up following your heart to make your home on these shores, you soon realize that our city offers all sorts of riches beyond our beaches, from world-class arts, sports and outdoor adventures to intriguing shops and a lively dining scene. All that makes Sarasota a great place to live as well as to visit—although I confess you can get so caught up in your everyday life that, as longtime lovers often do, you neglect what drew you together in the first place.

I live just a few blocks from the beach, but too many nights I come home tired and close the door behind me. And it’s easy to fill every weekend day with errands, chores and family and social events. “We need to go to the beach,” my boyfriend and I tell each other—for days, weeks, sometimes even months.

And then, finally, one night after work, we do. Walking over the dune, we feel the air change. It’s softer, fresher, tinged with salt. We take off our shoes and the sand squeaks between our toes. We sit close to the water, holding hands and watching tiny sandpipers scurry along the edges of each splashing wave with uncanny precision. By the time that glowing sun has slipped into the Gulf, we’re lost in wonder, in love all over again with this magical sliver where land meets sea, the enchanted zone that’s the heart and soul of Sarasota.

Start or rekindle your love affair with Sarasota.

Sarasota Magazine, November 30, 2016

Welcome Back: Here’s What Happened While You Were Gone


From construction to parking meters, from fights over special events downtown to … fights over bars downtown, here’s the top 10 stories from this off-season.

The off-season in Sarasota seems to get a little less quiet every year. While snowbirds retreated to more temperate climates, plenty was happening around town. Here are 10 of the biggest stories that happened between May and October — and some of what’s ahead when season truly kicks into gear.

  1. Construction comes with growing pains

People might have left Sarasota during the summer, but the cranes didn’t go anywhere.

Developments big and small continue to move forward, from the mammoth Vue Sarasota Bay to the two-story commercial building at 2101 Main St. that will house the Puerto Rican restaurant Sofrito Mama’s.

The Vue Sarasota Bay development has been the subject of harsh criticism from residents.

Even projects that aren’t under construction are advancing. In May, the city approved a comprehensive plan amendment that will allow entrepreneur Harvey Vengroff to proceed with plans for a 393-unit affordable apartment complex at 2211 Fruitville Road.

In August, the city Planning Board voted unanimously to approve the development plan for Sarasota Bayside, the mixed-use project slated for the former Quay property on the bayfront. The plans, still subject to final City Commission review, include up to 695 condo units, 175 hotel rooms, 189,050 square feet of retail space and 38,972 square feet of office space.

Citizen concern regarding the rate of growth is mounting. A new resident activist group called STOP held its first public meeting in September, announcing its intention to advocate for policy changes designed to reduce the impacts of growth. As the city prepares to publicly review a new form-based zoning code, STOP is pushing to restrict administrative approval of proposed developments.

  1. Benderson project creates Siesta showdown

One proposed development has commanded the attention of residents near Siesta Key.

Both island and mainland neighborhoods have voiced concerns regarding Benderson Development Co.’s plans for a 24-acre mixed-use project at the corner of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41.

Since June, Benderson has scaled back the development in response to initial feedback from residents. The most recent plans include 140,000 square feet of commercial space, between 350 and 400 residential units and two hotels with 195 rooms between them.

Benderson is planning a 24-acre mixed use development on Stickney Point Road. However, the neighboring Pine Shores neighborhood has continued to voice concerns regarding the implications the development may have on traffic in the area.

To begin construction, Benderson needs the county to either approve rezoning or establish a “critical area plan” for the property. Benderson is pursuing a CAP, which is a designation the county typically uses for mixed-use developments to allow additional feedback from officials and residents — and which could permit greater density and height for the project.

Benderson Director of Development Todd Mathes took his case to county commissioners Oct. 11, but the county delayed a final ruling. At the October hearing, representatives from both the Landings and Gulf Gate neighborhoods spoke against the project — suggesting south Sarasota residents are increasingly concerned about the proposed development as the plans advance through the county review process.

  1. Yes, paid parking is (probably) coming back

Despite the protests of merchants, the city is once again working on implementing a paid parking program that would bring parking meters downtown. In May, the City Commission approved a new citywide strategy for parking management. The 73-page document, drafted by Parking Manager Mark Lyons with the help of the citizen Parking Advisory Committee, deals with many facets of parking in the city — but for most residents, the major takeaway was that the strategy endorsed the return of paid parking.

In 2011, the city removed parking meters from downtown streets because of the backlash to a previous paid parking effort. Lyons and the committee have spent the summer figuring out how to avoid the pitfalls of the past, focusing on more customer-friendly machines and a stronger awareness campaign.

“This is a much smarter, wiser, better researched effort,” committee member Eileen Hampshire said.

Although nobody showed up to a commission meeting with a bag on their head — yet — business owners have begun to voice their displeasure with the prospect of installing parking meters on Main Street. The Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association has threatened legal action against the city, arguing the return of paid parking would unduly hurt businesses in the downtown area.

“It seems like we’re making it harder and harder to shop, stroll and dine downtown,” Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association President Ron Soto said. Still, in September, the commission voted to move ahead with a search for a parking meter vendor, signaling that paid parking could be back as soon as next year.

  1. ‘Thunder’ bolts from downtown Sarasota

If you were looking forward to celebrating Thunder by the Bay in downtown Sarasota this January, then you’d better sit down. (If you read your newspaper standing up, that is.)

After lengthy negotiations with city officials, the organizers of the motorcycle festival said in September that the bulk of Thunder by the Bay will move to Lakewood Ranch for 2017. The event, scheduled for Jan. 5-8, will primarily take place at the Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch.

Thunder by the Bay is moving to Lakewood Ranch following complaints from businesses and residents.

Thunder by the Bay has traditionally called Main Street its home, but downtown merchants and residents were increasingly critical of the event’s impact. City Commissioner Susan Chapman was one of several people to suggest the event had outgrown the venue, and that businesses were suffering as a result.

A contingent of supporters argued the city chased away an event that injects activity into the downtown area.

“Every year, despite the fact that this is one of the largest, most influential charities in Manatee and Sarasota County, it became harder and harder for the charity and sponsors to deal with the city of Sarasota,” said John Saputo, president of event sponsor Gold Coast Eagle Distributing.

Festival Director Lucy Nicandri explored alternate locations on east Main Street and in Payne Park, but ultimately settled on moving out of the city. Although she said she was excited about the new sites — including Gulf Gate Village, which will host a Friday night block party — she said she was sad to take Thunder by the Bay outside of the heart of the city.

“Is it bittersweet to not have it in downtown?” Nicandri said. “Absolutely.”

  1. Bayfront vision draws nearer to reality

The city-owned land surrounding the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall is largely unchanged, but the community-led effort to redevelop the bayfront property is continuing to make progress.

This summer, Sarasota Bayfront 20:20 focused its energy on forming a new organization charged with devising a master plan for the bayfront. In October, the board of directors for that planning organization was finalized — a nine-person group that includes City Manager Tom Barwin and former Proctor & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley.

Now, Sarasota Bayfront 20:20 is focusing on raising $2.5 million to support the work of the planning organization. In July, the Patterson Foundation announced it would commit $300,000 to the cause.

The organization will hire a professional planner and project manager to facilitate the creation of a detailed plan for redeveloping the bayfront, with a targeted timeline of 18 months for the work.

The creation of the organization doesn’t mean the public will stop being engaged with the planning process, according to Bayfront 20:20 Chairman Michael Klauber. The planning organization will open its meetings to the public, and a “resource team” — comprised of arts leaders, bayfront tenants, city staff and others — will offer its support throughout the planning process, as well.

“In every step of the way, as the planning board makes decisions, they’re going to have to make sure they align with the visions and principles of Bayfront 20:20,” Klauber said.

  1. Theaters set the stage for changes

Although Sarasota Bayfront 20:20 is considering creating a campus to promote the city’s robust creative scene, the oldest arts organization in Sarasota is moving from its home near downtown.

Michelle Bianchi Pingel and Jeffery Kin are overseeing the Players’ move to Lakewood Ranch.

In May, the Players Theatre announced it would sell its property at 838 N. Tamiami Trail and move to Lakewood Ranch, and rebrand itself as The Players Centre for Performing Arts.

Still on the market, the property is listed for $12.5 million — and zoning permits the construction of an 18-story, 66-unit condominium on the land. Managing Director and CEO Michelle Bianchi Pingel said the money from the sale would allow the Players to construct a larger campus with fewer technical and creative limitations.

“Our mission’s going to stay the same, but it’s going to allow for growth,” she said. “We can’t grow where we’re at, unfortunately.”

The Players isn’t the only theater in Sarasota going through some changes. This summer, the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe filed plans with the city to renovate its campus along Orange Avenue, just north of downtown.

The renovation effort includes the addition of permanent seating to the main theater, increasing the capacity to about 200 seats. The administrative staff will move into the nearby Binz building, and the theater will build a plaza between the sites.

Founder and Creative Director Nate Jacobs said the changes represented significant progress from just three years ago, when the theater didn’t even have a permanent home.

“We control our destiny,” he said. “We are in control of our programs and our seasonal shows, and it puts us in a position to thoroughly and fully begin to stretch our legs artistically in this city.”

  1. Residents protest Beach Road closure

Siesta Key resident Mike Cosentino has turned a decision impacting a small portion of Beach Road into a countywide fight for beach access.

The segment of road, located between Avenida Messina and Columbus Boulevard, has not been opened to through traffic since 1993 when the county “temporarily” vacated it. County commissioners voted May 11 to permanently cede the county’s stake in the roadway to nearby property owners, prompting Cosentino to file a complaint contesting the legality of the decision.

Residents don’t want the county to privatize a segment of Beach Road.

He cited a portion of the county’s comprehensive plan that restricts the county from vacating any road segments on waterfronts or that offer Gulf access.

In addition, Cosentino believes the decision will allow for intense development on the Beach Road properties.

Attorney Charlie Bailey, who is representing Beach Road property owners Dennis and Wendy Madden, said the segment of road in question does not allow beach access because it runs parallel to the beach.

Although the Maddens plan to renovate their condos at 89 Beach Road, Bailey said the renovation would not increase the density of the development. Beach Road property owners also insist they have no plans to increase development along the road in the future.

Still, Cosentino and other Siesta Key residents remain wary. They have been campaigning not only to reverse the county’s decision, but to encourage county staff to explore mechanisms to rebuild and restore the road for vehicular traffic. Cosentino formally filed a lawsuit against the county Oct. 11.

  1. Officials, residents get into bar brawls

During the summer, the city considered plans to open a new cocktail bar and tapas restaurant on Main Street — which drew vocal residents on both sides of the proposal.

In May, city staff and the Planning Board endorsed plans for Cask and Ale, a St. Petersburg-based lounge that was seeking approval to open in the space at 1548 Main St. Representatives for the bar hoped to be open by the July 4 weekend, but the City Commission intervened, opting to hold another public hearing.

A group of downtown residents expressed concerns about issues, including noise and crime, associated with the proliferation of nightlife venues serving alcohol downtown. During the July 7 commission meeting, however, many residents spoke in favor of the proposal, arguing Cask and Ale would provide a benefit for Sarasota’s younger residents.

The commission voted 4-1 to approve the bar’s request to use a liquor license, though Cask and Ale has still not opened on Main Street.

“We don’t just want to be a retirement community — we want young professionals,” Commissioner Liz Alpert said.

In October, we asked readers, business owners and city leaders a loaded question: Is downtown Sarasota fun? We got mixed reactions, but City Commissioner Susan Chapman was one of several people who believe “fun” isn’t defined by whether booze is being served.

“There’s a critical mass of how many bars you should have, and we’ve kind of reached it,” Chapman said.

  1. Sarasota weathers the storm(s)

If you took refuge to the north this summer, you were lucky to miss out on three major storms — though fortunately, our area avoided the worst of the nasty weather.

Tropical Storm Colin made landfall June 6, but aside from the usual flooding and some minor power outages, Sarasota emerged relatively unscathed.

Roads flooded during the storms this summer, but Sarasota avoided real disaster.

The next threat came in late August, when Tropical Storm Hermine took a northwest turn and headed for Florida’s Big Bend region. The storm, later upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane, stayed north of the Tampa Bay area, but Sarasota wasn’t spared entirely.

Heavy rains flooded streets, and more than 20,000 residents lost power during the storm. Wastewater facilities throughout Sarasota County reached capacity late in the day Sept. 1, which prompted county staff to release partially treated wastewater into Siesta Key’s Grand Canal.

That procedure is a standard technique to avoid an uncontrolled spill during major storms, according to David Cash, the public utilities division manager.

Still, residents near the facility raised concerns about the wastewater, arguing that the county should have notified them of the incident.

In total, the county estimated $700,000 in damage resulted from the storm.

As hurricane season waned in early October, the gulf had one last surprise up its sleeve as Hurricane Matthew moved rapidly toward Florida. Although projections showed the hurricane largely impacting the state’s east coast, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for all Florida counties Oct. 3.

Besides some rain, the Sarasota area escaped the brunt of the hurricane.

  1. Sand storm continues on Lido, Siesta

Unfortunately, the ongoing dispute between Lido Key and Siesta Key regarding plans to dredge Big Pass wasn’t settled while you were gone.

The city is still working with the Army Corps of Engineers in an effort to use sand from Big Pass to replenish critically eroded portions of the Lido shoreline.

Siesta residents remain concerned about the project’s potential impact on the shoreline to the south. One big ruling should be coming soon, though.

The eroded Lido Key shoreline showed signs of wear following inclement weather. After a back-and-forth between the Army Corps and Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state accepted the application to conduct the dredging project in October. That gave the FDEP 60 days to either deny the application or announce its intent to issue permits for the project.

Even though a decision from the state could be near, there are still several hurdles. Most significantly, the group Save Our Siesta Sands 2 has said it plans to file a legal challenge to the project if the FDEP intends to issue a permit.

Lido residents continue to be anxious about the progress of the proposed project, particularly after this summer’s storms took their toll on the shoreline.

Observer, November 10, 2016