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

Lido Pavilion Hosts Inaugural Veggie Market

Lido KeyLido Pavilion hosts the Key’s inaugural Veggie Market, a weekly open-air produce market designed to serve barrier island residents.

After endless trips to the mainland for fresh food items, Mike Adkinson asked the simple question “Can’t there be some way we can have a fresh market out here?”

To accomplish was no easy task. When Adkinson asked if it was possible to get a market on Lido or St. Armands, people told him NO. They were thinking in a traditional sense — based on the cost of land on the islands, it’s not cost-effective for larger grocers to open stores.

Adkinson drew from his own experience to devise another option. He served in the Army, where various vendors — selling things like produce, baked goods and dairy — would come onto the base daily. He thought it must be possible to do something similar on Lido.

Working with the Lido Key Residents Association, he got Brown’s Grove Citrus and Produce to agree to bring fruits and vegetables out to the barrier islands every week. After navigating some logistical challenges with the city, the Lido residents got approval to hold the market at the Lido Pavilion, located near the public beach at 400 Ben Franklin Drive.

Although Adkinson said reaching an agreement with the city posed some challenges, the organization of a neighborhood farmers market on city property isn’t without precedent. City spokeswoman Jan Thornburg pointed out that Newtown set up its own farmers market earlier this year, and she said the city would attempt to work with other residents interested in setting up something similar.

After attending the Lido market last week, Thornburg came away impressed with the setup. “They really had a good turnout and a steady stream of customers,” Thornburg said.

For Adkinson, the market represents more than just an opportunity to avoid a few trips over the Ringling bridge. He wants to foster a sense of community on the barrier islands, uniting people on Lido, St. Armands and Bird keys to address common interests.

During the veggie market, he saw an egalitarian bonding experience among the customers. People were getting to know their neighbors, talking to one another in a public space — a remarkable feat in this day and age, Adkinson thought. This, more than anything, is the value of an event like this to him.

“We just want to have an activity that’s healthy and good for the community, to come together once a week and shake hands and enjoy socializing like we did this morning,” Adkinson said following the first day of the market.

Already, residents were asking him about what’s next for the veggie market, but Adkinson is warding off the idea of expansion. Eventually, he might like to see a baker or dairy salesperson come in — but for now, he thinks it’s perfect as-is.

“We don’t want to grow it right now,” he said. “We want to enjoy it. We want to keep it like it is and let it settle, and let it mature, and let it just be really good for what it is.”

Observer, November 10, 2016

Why Sarasota Florida Is A Hidden Travel Gem

From Forbes Travel Guide – September 2016

Sitting in The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota’s Beach Club Grill on Lido Key, you get a real taste of Sarasota, an underrated town where everyone seems to have a backstory. As you dine on succulent scallops and bacon risotto, with the stunning pool and the Gulf of Mexico’s lapping waves in the background, server Irmy checks on you. The friendly elder German woman will share that she’s a grill veteran, but if you probe a bit, she will reveal that she landed in town many years ago because she had a unicycle-acrobatic act with her husband, which was risqué at the time.

The encounter demonstrates the many facets of the southwestern Florida city — the fresh Gulf Coast cuisine, the inviting beaches (Sarasota County boasts almost 40 miles of shoreline) and its history as the Circus Capital of the World. Find out why our Forbes Travel Guide editors think Sarasota should be your next travel destination.

The Beach Club – Ritz-Carlton Lido Key

Where to Stay

The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota debuted with a fresh new look in December 2015, making it the hot place to stay in town. Taking inspiration from the Gulf, the rooms have a modern beach vibe that avoids cliché and veers chic. Soft blues and purples come from Sarasota sunsets, sea green from the water outside and gray textured walls lend a contemporary touch. Bathrooms blend white marble and gray walls.

The seashore accents are subtle: The carpet bears a nautilus shell pattern, the bedside lamps have a golden shell base and local artists and Ringling School of the Arts students create the framed pieces.

Upgrade to a room on the eighth-floor Club Level to receive two daily garment pressings and access to the Club Lounge, which offers food and drinks throughout the day. Sip a sparkling rosé, nibble on a mini crab roll and admire the great views of Sarasota Bay.

Where to Play

One of the best amenities at the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel is its private Beach Club on Lido Key three miles away (the complimentary shuttle will bring you back and forth). While popular Siesta Key impresses with its flour-like sand, the beach here is more quiet and exclusive.

If the clear ocean doesn’t call to you, try the heated pool overlooking the Gulf. Or snap up a cabana to gaze at the waves from a hammock. Just make sure you have a potent mai tai from the onsite Lido Key Tiki Bar in hand when you’re watching the sun set and a drummer welcomes the evening in a daily ritual.

For active pursuits, borrow free equipment back at the hotel to do kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. Or remain at the beach and make use of the gratis snorkels, masks and fins.

Duffers should head about 16 miles from the luxury hotel to the 18-hole Tom Fazio-designed Golf Club. Spread across 315 acres, the scenic course is a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary with more than 100 plant species, 12 lakes (check out the lily pond at hole No. 17) and a setting for bald eagles, snakes, alligators, boar, bobcats and even a panther. It has one of the best driving ranges in the area, so don’t be surprised if you spy a pro practicing there. And if you have your own PGA dreams, enlist the help of genial instructor Randy Kok.

What to See

Beyond the beach, Sarasota’s biggest attraction is the sprawling Ringling campus. The city’s big top legacy started in 1927, when circus mogul John Ringling relocated Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s winter headquarters there from Connecticut.

Learn more at the Ringling Circus Museum, where you can see everything from aerialist Dolly Jacobs’ glittering dress with rhinestones, sequins and feathers; to vintage circus posters; to ornate circus wagons.

Marvel at a meticulous 44,000-piece miniature replica of the Ringling circus as it would have looked during the 1920s and 1930s and what it took to bring the show to each town (the 26,000-yard big top alone took four hours to raise). In 1926, a typical Ringling show would spotlight more than 800 performers in 22 displays.

Elsewhere on the campus, you’ll find the waterfront home of John and Mable Ringling. The 56-room 1925 mansion called Cà d’Zan showcases a distinctive Venetian Gothic design. Step inside to see rooms like the Court — an atrium space with a checkerboard floor, velvet sofas and a crystal chandelier from the former Waldorf Astoria — where the Ringling’s entertained guests.

Ringling is also home to an art museum with 21 galleries’ worth of work from old masters and contemporary artists. It just opened a new Center for Asian Art in May 2016. The 25,000-square-foot addition sticks out from the perfectly pink surrounding buildings with its mosaic of more than 2,700 green-glazed terra cotta tiles that were designed to look like jade. Inside, discover works like the Phoenix Door Panels (Ramma) from Japan’s Edo period. The Ringling’s originally purchased the pair of carved wood painted panels for their home.

You could spend days covering the 66-acre Ringling campus, but take time to walk the grounds. In particular, swing by Mable Ringling’s Rose Garden, the oldest continuously operating rose garden in the state, and the Museum of Art courtyard, with replicas of ancient Greek, Roman and Baroque statues on a pristine manicured lawn and lining the top of the buildings.

Explore more of Sarasota’s natural beauty at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. It’s the only botanical garden in the world focused on epiphytes, non-parasitic plants that grow on other plants, like orchids and bromeliads. Traverse the nearly 15-acre grounds and you’ll encounter a banyan grove, a Children’s Rainforest Garden with a waterfall and swinging bridges, rare putrid-smelling corpse plants and a koi pond.

Don’t miss a trip between February and July 2017, when “Marc Chagall, Flowers, and the French Riviera: The Color of Dreams” will take over Selby. Chagall’s famous flowery paintings, archival nature photos from his estate and other objects from his life will be woven into the garden setting for a unique first-time curation.

The prized piece of the exhibit will be The Lovers, a 1937 oil painting on loan from The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Quotes from Chagall, like “Great art picks up where nature ends,” will be highlighted in the garden as well. The exhibit marks Selby’s move to become a living museum; it plans to feature a new artist every February.

Where to Shop

Shoppers will want to stroll the coconut-palm-lined sidewalks of St. Armands Circle, a quick shuttle ride from the hotel. Peruse more than 130 upscale shops (McCarver & Moser fine jewelry), restaurants (open-air Shore Diner) and gourmet specialty stores (Big Olaf Creamery’s handmade Amish ice cream). In the center of the shopping quadrants you’ll find Circle Park with Italian statues from John Ringling’s personal collection.

Another nice walking area is Burns Court Historic District. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the area south of downtown Sarasota is made up of 15 stucco bungalows in vibrant hues like cornflower blue and fuchsia. They house everything from art galleries to residences.

Pop into the Pepto-Bismol-pink Burns Court Cinema building to catch an independent movie before heading to the next-door Owen’s Fish Camp for seafood. Keep an eye out for art, from painted bikes (a pink two-wheeler with a plastic flamingo perched on the handlebars and a sky-blue bike with a matching fish on top) to wall murals (Anat Ronen’s work shows hands grasping a Leica camera, Pixel Pancho’s skull-faced Mickey Mouse rides a mechanical flamingo).

Jack Dusty's Ritz-Carlton - Downtown Sarasota

Jack Dusty’s Ritz-Carlton – Downtown Sarasota

Where to Eat

In this beach town where the dress code is resort casual, dining options are just as easy. Downtown, go to Nancy’s Bar-B-Q for a hearty Southern meal. Pitmaster Nancy Krohngold, whom you will recognize with her trademark pearls, tortoise shell glasses and thick hoop earrings, turns out tender 12-hour brisket and popular pulled pork. Pile on the unusual barbecue sides — a light sesame slaw adds crunch and edamame elevates the sweet succotash.

The aforementioned Beach Club Grill is a solid lunch or dinner option — don’t miss the creamy citrus-burrata salad with Thai basil, Marcona almonds and a vanilla vinaigrette. It gets a kick of sweetness from honey that’s made on the hotel’s golf course.

The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota’s Jack Dusty restaurant is a pioneer in the Ritz-Carlton chain. It bucks the more formal fine-dining model of the hotel dining experience for one that is casual and upbeat. While the white tablecloths may be gone, the food remains focused and well executed.

Start with mussels doused in a sage-pesto broth and the compressed tomato and watermelon salad with basil, chili flakes, fennel pollen and Meyer lemon oil. For seafood, order the whole fried local snapper or the grilled lobster with drawn butter. And if you prefer meat, try the short rib BLT with cheddar grits, fried green tomato caponata and wilted lettuce.

Save room for sweets; it would be a shame to forgo executive pastry chef Lyndsy McDonald’s decadent desserts. The most comforting — and Instagram-worthy — is the coffee milkshake served in a mason jar with big doughnuts threaded through the red striped straw.

Getting Around – Proposed Sarasota Transportation Alternatives

Sarasota Traffic Plan Includes Adding 16 Roundabouts

getting aroundOptions for getting around Sarasota could soon evolve from car or bus rides to trips on commuter rails, water taxis and new bike and pedestrian paths.

City planners and engineers presented ideas for alternative transportation at a City Commission workshop Monday afternoon as residents have grown increasingly frustrated with increasing traffic congestion.

In addition to transportation alternatives, city officials also proposed lots of roundabouts as a way to reduce accidents and smooth traffic flow.

City officials want to add 16 roundabouts to Sarasota roads by 2023, including nine in the downtown core. Six would dot U.S. 41 north of Fruitville Road, while one would be on Siesta Drive just east of U.S. 41.

Engineers cited National Cooperative Highway Research Program statistics showing that roundabouts result in a 35 percent reduction of all intersection crashes and a 76 percent reduction in serious injury and fatal crashes.

They also said the traffic circles are safer for pedestrians and reduce rush-hour delays.

The first of the new traffic circles would be built along U.S. 41 at the intersection of 10th Street near the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and at 14th Street near Whitaker Gateway Park by 2017. It could cost more than $42 million to complete all 16.

But the roundabouts are only a piece of the proposed transportation picture. Additional options include:

  • A pilot water taxi service would have stops at Centennial Park, Mote Marine, Siesta Key’s north bridge and Marina Jack. Eventually, if Manatee County agrees, the ferries could take people from Siesta Key’s North Bridge to Holmes Beach, Palmetto and downtown Bradenton.
  • A commuter rail could revive a long dormant north-south railroad track between U.S. 41 and U.S. 301, making stops at the airport and at a future downtown transportation hub near Lime Avenue and Fruitville Road.
  • Fixed-rail street cars — which could cost between $1.3 and $1.9 million — would circulate downtown on one of four routes.
  • Rapid bus transit lines would run along Bee Ridge Road, Fruitville Road, south U.S. 41, north U.S. 41 and along University Parkway and U.S. 301.
  • Trolley routes to the beaches and downtown would also be expanded.

While many of these ideas sound far-off, city officials have been working on a zoning overhaul since 2013.

City Engineer Alex DavisShaw, the city’s engineer, said it could be 2031 before all of the initiatives are completed, if the city approves them.

“Looking at the big picture, the downtown circular and roundabouts on U.S. 41 will be huge game-changers,” DavisShaw said. “Not just the multi-modal forms of transportation, but it will change the way traffic feels in Sarasota.”

But Commissioner Susan Chapman questioned the effectiveness of the measures when compared to the cost.

“I think that’s the whole issue — you have to really plan and actually find out who is going to stop driving to take transit,” Chapman said.

Chapman said she has visited other tourist destinations where visitors often use transportation alternatives. But she added she was unimpressed by how few people used the Lido Key circular trolley on the Fourth of July weekend. The free service shuttled boat race revelers from downtown to Lido Key.

“From what I heard, it was free and people still didn’t use it,” she said.

Herald Tribune July 16, 2016

Siesta Key Ranked in New Top 10 Beaches List

Siesta Key Ranks No 2 in the 2016 Top Beaches in the US



Dr. Stephen Leatherman– (Dr Beach)–has come out with his 2016 list of America’s Best Beaches, and Siesta Key Beach is No. 2.

“With some of the finest, whitest sand in the world, this beach attracts sand collectors from all over,” Leatherman writes on his site. “Siesta Beach has clear, warm waters ideal for swimming. The beach is hundreds of yards wide in the shape of a crescent, due to anchoring of onshore rocks to the south. This beach is great for volleyball and other types of recreational fitness.”

“We’re really thrilled,” says Lynn Hobeck Bates, communications manager for Visit Sarasota County. “It’s not often that a former No. 1 beach makes it back on the list, so when we saw it this morning we were surprised and excited for the exposure. I think that the new renovations, which have made the beach even better, have to come to Dr. Beach’s attention.”

“I never dreamed we’d be back on the list, so I am just thrilled for the recognition,” said Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, the county’s tourism promoting agency.

Leatherman is an internationally known coastal scientist who has published 20 books and hundreds of scientific articles and reports about storm impacts, coastal erosion and ways to improve beach health and safety.

Lately, he’s putting more emphasis on environmental management and beach safety.

This year’s No. 1 beach is Maui’s Kapula Bay Beach, but two other Florida beaches also made their way into the top 10: Grayton Beach State Park in the Panhandle, and Caladesi Island State Park Dunedin/Clearwater.

Dr. Beach’s Top 10 beaches of 2016
1. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve; Oahu, Hawaii
2. Siesta Beach
3. Kapalua Bay Beach; Maui, Hawaii
4. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach; Outer Banks of North Carolina
5. Coast Guard Beach; Cape Cod, Massachusetts
6. Grayton Beach State Park; Florida Panhandle
7. Coronado Beach; San Diego, California
8. Coopers Beach; Southampton, New York
9. Caladesi Island State Park; Clearwater
10. Beachwalker Park; Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Sarasota Magazine, Orlando Sentinel May 26. 2016

Most Home Sales in Southwest Florida Still Cash

cash sales SarasotaCash buyers remain major players in the Southwest Florida housing market.

The Sarasota-Manatee area ranked fifth among the largest U.S. metro areas for cash home sales at the end of 2015, according to a new report by data provider CoreLogic.

Cash sales accounted for 51 percent of all home deals in the two counties, CoreLogic said, reinforcing other reports that buying without borrowing is still the most popular way to acquire residential real estate here.

That was up from 47.2 percent in September, but down from 54.3 percent one year earlier.

Cash buyers have dominated the regional real estate market for several years, even leading the nation for the top share early last year.

While the impact of large institutional investors — who dominated the market during its early rebound — has slowed, smaller investors have become more active. Baby boomers at or near retirement also are selling homes up north and paying cash for homes here.

Florida tied for third nationally for the share of cash sales at 46 percent, CoreLogic said.

Nationwide, cash sales made up 33.4 percent of all homes sales in December and 33.9 percent for the full year, the lowest annual level since 2008.

“The cash sales share peaked in January 2011, when cash transactions accounted for 46.6 percent of total home sales nationally,” CoreLogic said. “Prior to the housing crisis, the cash sales share of total home sales averaged approximately 25 percent.

“If the cash sales share continues to fall at the same rate it did in December 2015, the share should hit 25 percent by mid-2017,” it said.

Herald Tribune March 24, 2016

Florida Breaks Tourism Record in 2015

welcome to florida-1The Sunshine State welcomed an estimated 79.1 million visitors during the first nine months of 2015, the most of any such period in Florida’s history.

The nine-month count was a 5.5 percent increase when compared with the same period in 2014.

The third quarter of this year saw an estimated 25.5 million visitors, an increase of 6.8 percent, according to a report from Visit Florida, the state’s tourism promotions agency, released on Thursday.

The average number of direct travel-related jobs in the third quarter also was a record high, at 1,195,400, 5.2 percent more than a year ago.

Gov. Rick Scott has set a goal of drawing more than 100 million tourists to Florida this year, and that now seems within fairly easy reach.

Visit Florida estimated that there were 22.1 million domestic travelers to Florida in the third quarter, an 8.2 percent increase. There were another 3.4 million international visitors.

Preliminary figures for the nine-month period show 67.4 million domestic visitors, 8.3 million overseas visitors and 3.4 million Canadians.

Tourism and recreation taxable sales for Florida increased year-over-year for January through August, which was the last month reported, by 8.2 percent, while the average daily room rate rose 5.1 percent. The occupancy rate for Florida hotels increased 3.6 percent and the demand in rooms sold grew 4.8 percent compared with a year ago.

“The continued growth of tourism for the third quarter, including a record number of tourism-related jobs, puts Florida on pace for a fifth consecutive record breaking year. These records also emphasize the power of tourism as an economic leader and job creator for the state,” John Tomlin, Visit Florida’s chairman, said in a statement.

Local data has been equally impressive, with Sarasota County collected more than $19.02 million from its 5 percent tax on overnight accommodations during the recently ended fiscal year. That amounts to a 27 percent increase in those revenues from just two years ago. Meanwhile, that same revenue source in Manatee County was $11.74 million, a 30 percent jump from two years ago.

For the first time, too, Sarasota County broke 1 million visitors in paid lodgings.

In the July-to-September quarter, the number of visitors to Sarasota County was up 2.3 percent and their spending grew by 3.8 percent.

Herald Tribune November 2015

Longboat Key in Top 10 Conde Nast Traveler’s Islands

longboat keyIt’s time to invest in a larger trophy case. This time, Longboat Key has garnered national glory.

Longboat Key was the No. 9 best island in the U.S. in Conde Nast Traveler’s 2015 Readers’ Choice Awards. Hawaii’s Maui, Kauai, Oahu and Big Island nabbed the top four slots. Amelia Island, which ranked No. 10, was the only other Florida location to make the list.

The 12-mile island with land in both Sarasota and Manatee counties is known for its elegant and refined personality, said Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County. Conde Nast described Longboat Key as a more private option among the Sarasota-Bradenton area’s barrier islands and praised it for the sand dollars and seashells that can be found there.

Longboat Key typically spends less time in the spotlight than Siesta Key and Anna Maria Island.

“For us, what’s so important is for people to understand the different personalities of our islands,” Haley said. “It’s just thrilling to see Longboat getting recognized in this way.”

The beach accesses on Longboat Key are less pronounced than at some of the other barrier islands in the region. It also offers a number of hidden gems, such as Quick Point Nature Preserve, at its southeast corner.

“You feel like you’re almost on a deserted island, but you’re looking over all of Sarasota bay,” Haley said.

More than 128,000 travelers took part in Conde Nast Traveler’s 28th annual Readers’ Choice Awards survey. The readers submitted millions of ratings and tens of thousands of comments to determine the best cities, resorts, airlines, among other categories for travelers.

This latest honor has joined a long list of recent accolades for the Sarasota-Bradenton area.

This year, Siesta Key was ranked the No. 1 beach in the nation on TripAdvisor.com’s 2015 Travelers’ Choice Awards and was named the third best Florida beach in a poll by USA Today. Siesta Key and Lido both make regular appearances on TripAdvisor.com’s best of lists.

Stephen “Dr. Beach” Leatherman also touted Siesta Key in May 2011 as the nation’s top beach in his annual ranking.

Anna Maria Island, too, received recognition from Conde Nast earlier this year when its Coquina Beach was named one of the world’s “top island beaches for perfect sand.” The island this year was also named as one of the fastest-growing vacation destinations by TripAdvisor.com.

Herald Tribune 10/22/2015

Black Opal Caviar – Mote Marine Laboratories

Sustainable, farm-produced American Black Opal caviar debuts this week

black-opal-caviarBlack Opal Platinum Reserve among world’s finest caviar

SARASOTA, Fla. (Sept. 16, 2015) – Black Opal caviar, the much-anticipated farm-raised black sturgeon caviar developed at Mote Marine Laboratories in Sarasota, goes to market this week, according to Christopher Cogan, chief executive officer of Healthy Earth Inc.

More than a million dollars’ worth of the very high-quality black caviar, produced from farm-raised Siberian sturgeon, has been produced for this initial marketing effort, Cogan said. The caviar is available in several amounts – from one-ounce jars, to one-kilo tins – which are now being labeled and packed in anticipation of shipping to select retail outlets and fine restaurants.

“We have plenty of caviar on the shelves, ready to go,” said Cogan. “We’ve produced nearly 1,000 kilos of Black Opal caviar in anticipation of this initial marketing effort. Our team of experts at Mote Aquaculture Park continue to harvest the largest, best-quality caviar they have ever produced.”

The story of Black Opal caviar and how it came to be is a fascinating tale of the meeting of technology and epicurean knowhow.

Sarasota’s prestigious Mote Marine Laboratory, a leader in research that supports long-term conservation and the sustainable use of marine resources, spearheaded water recirculation processes and other technologies that successfully applied land-based aquaculture to the production of black caviar, a product that had generally been collected in the wild.

The result: A successful process and operation that can produce nearly two metric tons of caviar and 81,000 pounds of sturgeon meat per year.

Enter Seven Holdings, an investment company that acquired the Siberian sturgeon and caviar business from Mote Marine. It is now beginning to market Black Opal caviar under the Healthy Earth brand – a hand-crafted, small-batch caviar that features a hint of briny sweetness that results in part from its malossol, or “little salt,” curing process.

The first black caviar to be marketed under the Black Opal brand is Black Opal Platinum Reserve ($95 per ounce), the brand’s highest quality grade. Black Opal Platinum Reserve has an egg size no smaller than 2.6 mm and must meet strict standards of firmness, aroma, flavor and appearance. Black Opal Platinum Reserve represents less than 20 percent of the company’s total caviar production.

The Black Opal brand also will include Black Opal Platinum ($76 per ounce), a caviar product that meets the same exacting standards as Black Opal Platinum Reserve but which is slightly smaller in size at 2.4 mm. Another grade, sold under the Black Opal Select, also is available to restaurants, chefs and distributors.

Healthy Earth’s goal, according to Cogan, is to become a world leader in the development of sustainable and economically viable sources of seafood as an answer to overfishing, pollution, and worldwide increases in the demand for seafood. Based in Sarasota, it is supported and led by a team of veteran entrepreneurs and internationally-recognized marine scientists.

To learn more about Healthy Earth, including purchase Black Opal caviar directly, visit its website – www.healthyearth.org

Sarasota – Top 100 Best Places to Live

Downtown Sarasota - Downtown Sarasota LifestylesTropical island ambiance with the comforts of craft beer and fine art helped land the City of Sarasota on the “2016 Top 100 Best Places to Live.”

Sarasota showed up as No. 31 on the list along with places like Boulder, Colorado; Santa Rosa, California; and Madison, Wisconsin. The other Florida entries on the list, published this week by www.Livability.com, were Boca Raton, at No. 59, and Miami Beach, at No. 79.

“Overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, just south of Tampa Bay, Sarasota includes a string of eight islands that draw thousands of tourists,” Livability. com said. The report cites the fact that locals enjoy year-round access to beautiful beaches, a multitude of golf courses and a thriving downtown.

“The Sarasota Opera and Florida Studio Theater anchor the city’s arts and culture scene, while craft breweries, restaurants, shops and galleries provide many entertainment options,” the Livability study states.

Locals tend to roll their eyes at lists like this, because Sarasota shows up on so many of them. Siesta Beach shows up with regularity as the best or one of the best beaches in the country, thanks to Dr. Beach. Earlier this summer, both Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and NerdWallet placed Sarasota at or near the top of their own lists of great places to retire.

But for those in the business of winning new converts to the Southwest Florida, lists like this are manna from heaven. “We love the list, especially at this time of the year, because we are getting ready for the season, which comes earlier and earlier every year,” said Pauline Bennett, who manages the Coldwell Banker real estate downtown Sarasota office, which has 90 agents. “Lists like these helps keep us top of mind.”

Realtors will use the list as a reason to call or email a client who is on the fence, particularly if the client’s northern city also is on the list, Bennett added.

“Excelling as a livable city is what will help us attract and retain the quality workforce we need to support innovative, high-growth companies,” said Mark Huey, president of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County. “This is a recognition that we are on the right track in being that kind of magnet for talent.”

The top communities on Livability.com’s list were, in order: Rochester, Minnesota; Bellevue, Washington; Madison, Wisconsin; Santa Barbara, California; Boulder, Colorado; Palo Alto, California; Bismarck, North Dakota; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Iowa City, Iowa; and Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The Study

The site said that more than 2,100 cities (with populations from 20,000 to 350,000) were evaluated in the study. Researchers analyzed more than 40 data points that were then grouped into eight categories: economics, housing, amenities, infrastructure, demographics, social and civic capital, education and health care, Livability. com said.

The eight scores were weighted based on an exclusive survey conducted for Livability.com by Ipsos Public Affairs, a global market research firm. Respondents were asked about factors that make their communities better places to live, as well as the factors they would consider in selecting another city.

“Sources included the best public and private data available from organizations like the U.S. Census Bureau, Walk Score, GreatSchools.com and Esri,” Livability.com said.

Beer Factor

Sarasota’s emerging craft beer brewing scene also made it into the Livability. com recipe for success. Two craft brewers now operate in Sarasota, another two in Bradenton and more are in the works.

“A lot of people are coming from areas where they are used to having craft breweries around, like Michigan and Ohio,” said Jeremy Jorger, owner of JDub’s Brewing Co., situated near the recently renovated Ed Smith Stadium, where visitors and locals show up for Baltimore Orioles spring training.

The Orioles tout Sarasota with roughly $1 million worth of free advertising per year, including spots on their Mid-Atlantic Sports Network game broadcasts. “You could be watching a game and all of a sudden, Main Street Sarasota is on,” said David Rovine, the Orioles Sarasota vice president.

“What makes an area interesting and dynamic is the mixture of activities that it offers to you,” Rovine said. “If you have a little bit of everything — and I think Sarasota has a more than a little of everything, it makes it a great city to live in.”

Art Destination

Starting with the creation of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in the 1920s, Sarasota has long offered visitors and locals a deeper-than-usual dive into the arts scene.

“Now that the economy is better, people are buying art, so the galleries are flourishing again and new galleries are popping up all the time,” said Lisa Berger, executive director of the Art Center Sarasota, which will celebrate its 90th anniversary next year. Her organization maintains four galleries, including one for juried exhibitions. “You can come once a month and see all new work,” Berger said.

Herald Tribune Sept 14, 2015