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Downtown gateway signs in the works

Downtown could be getting a touch of simple hospitality. Three of the main entrances to downtown Sarasota are slated for new gateway signs soon — announcing to motorists, including tourists, they are entering the heart of the city.

The Downtown Improvement District (DID) is pursuing a project to install the signs at the three intersections on the perimeter of downtown. The banner signs will span about 60 feet across from sidewalk to sidewalk and read downtown Sarasota with letters standing about 3.5 feet tall, in caps. Last month, the district recommended setting aside between $150,000 to $200,000 to install the signs at U.S. 41 and Main Street, U.S. 301 and Main Street, and Fruitville Road and Lemon Avenue. The signs are estimated to cost about $50,000 each, and the city will create a request for proposals to identify a possible contractor after the New Year.

City approves mixed-use Quay Sarasota

The most ambitious development in Sarasota — and perhaps the most ambitious waterfront project in Florida — won final city approval last month, after years of planning.

The potential $1 billion Quay Sarasota project will combine commercial, residential and office buildings on the long-vacant property and transform the downtown bayfront over the next decade. Design and permitting work on the infrastructure, such as water, sewer and road facilities, and initial phases of the project is expected to begin after the New Year. The approval, on Dec. 5, set into motion a series of initial design and permitting efforts for water for infrastructure that will serve the overall project, and for the first residential building and waterfront public space on the property.

The new general development agreement also requires GreenPointe Communities to begin permitting with the Florida Department of Transportation within the month on the long-planned two-lane roundabout at U.S. 41 and Fruitville Road that will serve as the main gateway to the bayfront project.

The development agreement approved last month provides an overall layout for the site and allows for up to 695 condominiums, 175 hotel rooms, 189,050 square feet of retail space and nearly 39,000 square feet of office space in buildings up to 18 stories high. City Commissioner Susan Chapman cast the lone vote against it, calling it “an extreme amount” of density and intensity.

County invests in film incentive program

Continued interest in Sarasota from film and documentary makers is likely now that county commissioners voted 4-to-1 to replenish a financial incentives program that will attract more film-makers to the area.

During the county board’s meeting Nov. 22, commissioners agreed to place $213,000 into the program account. Over the last six years, nearly $400,000 has been used to fund a variety of productions in the area leaving the account depleted. The county has paid out more than $393,000 from the fund for a variety of productions, the most notable being the 2012 “Spring Breakers” starring James Franco, which received $8,716.60. “Free Ride,” a 2013 crime drama starring Anna Paquin, received $36,400, which was the largest amount paid out of the fund to date.

County Commissioner Nancy Detert spearheaded the movement during her time as a state representative. She hopes the additional finances will help the program to grow and draw the film industry to the Suncoast.

County considering joining Airbnb lawsuit

Sarasota County could be joining a lawsuit against the popular home-sharing app Airbnb over a disagreement regarding local tourism development dollars.

Hotels and vacation rentals in Sarasota County helped combine for $20 million in tourism development revenue last year, but listings on the popular website are proving more difficult to regulate under state law. Dozens of listings are posted throughout Sarasota County, but not all are paying local taxes associated with rentals, according to a report in ABC 7 Suncoast news. Earlier this year, Airbnb told the tax collector's office they would help gather those tourism development dollars from their renters, but now wish to avoid one aspect of state law. The company does not want to give Sarasota County tax collector the names and address of the hosts, which is required by Florida law.

"They did not want to give us the names and address of the hosts, and Florida law requires that we have that information, that we track that," says Sarasota County assistant tax collector Sherri Smith.

Now the county is considering a joint effort to sue the web-based company with other nearby counties.

PGT evolves, changes name

Sarasota County’s largest manufacturer and second largest employer is changing with the times. Good times, that is. PGT Innovations is the new legal name for what formerly was PGT Inc., the parent company of a family of brands: CGI, PGT Custom Windows & Doors, and WinDoor.

“Innovation is at the heart of what we do. It’s how we determine which companies to foster, how we decide which products to develop and how we keep growing,” Jeff Jackson, president of PGT Innovations, said in a press release (see below). “Bringing together these brands allows us to stay at the forefront of innovation and bring cutting-edge new products to market that have never been seen before.”

PGT Innovations makes impact-resistant doors and windows at its plant in North Venice. With nearly 2,000 employees, it’s the largest headquarters company and second-largest employer in Sarasota County, according to the Sarasota County Economic Development Corp.

According to a news report in the Tampa Bay Business Journal, since the market turnaround and housing recovery began in 2011, PGT has seen compounded annual growth of more than 20 percent in sales, 29 percent in gross profit and 43 percent in adjusted earnings before taxes, interest, depreciation and amortization, the company said in a third quarter 2016 earnings report. Fiscal 2016 sales are expected to be between $458 and $460 million, compared to $168 million in sales five years ago. The company plans to showcase new products that it says will “reimagine the future of glass windows and doors” when it officially unveils its new name at the 2017 NAHB International Builders show on January 10-12, in Orlando.

Incumbent, and challengers file for city race

Four candidates — three challengers and one incumbent — have filed thus far, as of press time, for the city of Sarasota’s City Commission 2017 race.

Small business owner Martin Hyde was the first candidate to have filed for the March election. Hyde, a 17-year resident of Sarasota, has been a frequent critic of several recent City Commission decisions.

Tahiti Park Neighborhood Association President Jennifer Ahearn-Koch filed paperwork at the end of November to run in next year’s City Commission election, becoming the second candidate to officially enter the race for two at-large seats on the commission.

Ahearn-Koch has been an outspoken neighborhood leader, and she served on the executive board of the Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations (CCNA) and the steering committee of the resident activist group STOP. Her experience includes six years on the city’s Planning Board, in addition. Commissioners Suzanne Atwell and Susan Chapman currently hold the two at-large seats. Chapman filed on Nov. 30 as the only incumbent to seek re-election to the board. The board’s other at-large incumbent, Commissioner Suzanne Atwell, announced this week that she had chosen not to seek another term. Atwell originally was elected in 2009.

Later in December, a fourth candidate emerged in the City Commission race, as attorney Hagen Brody filed paperwork at City Hall for the March election.

The deadline to file for the citywide race is January 13. The election is scheduled for March 14, and a run-off — if two candidates do not win a majority — will be held May 9.

Legacy Trail effort gets a spark

The early phases of the effort to extend the Legacy Trail got a boost last month. The Gulf Coast Community Foundation has given $50,000 to support an extension of the multiuse trail way from Palmer Ranch to Payne Park.

The Gulf Coast Community Foundation gave the donation to the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit organization that is negotiating on behalf of Sarasota County to obtain about 8 miles of railroad corridors to support the trail extension. That brings the total amount raised for surveys, appraisals, environmental assessments, and other expenses needed to advance the proposed acquisition of rail corridor to about $240,000. The $50,000 philanthropic gift was seen by supporters of the project as a small, albeit symbolic spark, for a project that could cost $20 million overall. The donation could also be an indicator of local fundraising promise for the initiative to extend the trail. Extending The Legacy Trail into downtown Sarasota is a priority of the Sarasota County Commission.

To the dogs

Some Sarasota County parks got more dog friendly. On Dec. 13, the Sarasota County Commission approved a resolution designating 71 Sarasota County parks and preserves in north and south county as “dog-friendly.” These are sites where dogs are welcome, but must be leashed at all times.

Designation of sites is necessary as Sarasota County Code prohibits dogs, cats, and other pets in county-owned parks but allows for areas to be specifically designated for activities involving animals such as dogs.

The need for additional dog parks and dog-friendly parks was identified in the county’s 2016 Parks, Preserves and Recreation Strategic Master Plan. The initial sites designated as dog-friendly in 2012 have been popular and are regularly used by park visitors with their dogs. The new dog-friendly designations will take effect Jan. 1, 2017.

In addition to dog-friendly parks, Sarasota County operates and maintains five dog (or paw) parks. Dog parks are places where dogs can safely be off-leash in a fenced area specifically designed for such use, often with associated amenities.

Sarasota’s graduation rates improve

The 2015–16 graduation rate for Sarasota County high schools rose to 85.4 percent, more than six percentage points from the district’s 2014–15 graduation rate of 79 percent. The district’s graduation rate was more than four percentage points higher than the state average of 81 percent. Every traditional public high school in the district improved its graduation rate from the previous year. The most dramatic increase was for Venice High School, which improved its graduation rate by 13 percentage points over 2014–15. The rates for all Florida school districts were released December 16 by the Florida Department of Education.

The most dramatic improvement was at Venice High School, which jumped from 80 percent two years ago to 93 percent at the end of the last calendar year. Imagine School at North Port graduated 79 percent of its students, up nine points from two years ago. Pine View School in Osprey led the way at 99 percent, up by a single digit. The schools with the leading graduation rates included: Suncoast Polytechnical High, Pine View School, and Sarasota Military Academy.

Pollo tropical signs lease

Pollo Tropical restaurant has signed a 20-year lease to replace the former Square 1 Burgers building on South Tamiami Trail.

The fast-casual chain plans to open a 3,600-square-foot restaurant at 1737 S. Tamiami Trail, which is across U.S. 41 from Sarasota Memorial Hospital. Pollo Operations plans to spend $975,000 on the new 90-seat restaurant, which will include a drive-thru, according to a development application paperwork.

425-home development approved

On Nov. 22, Sarasota County commissioners approved plans to redevelop Sunrise Golf Club, which has been abandoned for more than a decade.

The approval clears the way for a 425-home development near Palmer Ranch. Canadian developer Mattamy Homes is planning to build the homes on the 115-acre course and surrounding parcels, for which the developer paid a combined $14.3 million in March, 2016. Mattamy is partnering with Sarasota-based Vanguard Land Ventures on the development, which will include three unnamed neighborhoods southeast of Clark Road and I-75 with an entrance on Honore Avenue.

The approval hinged on an agreement with the surrounding neighborhood. The homeowners associations representing Sunrise Golf Club Estates and other neighborhoods signed an easement and contract with Vanguard earlier this year, allowing the partnership to redevelop the abandoned course. The covenant, which was originally drafted with Connelly’s firm, Civix, requires construction of a linear park within the buffer surrounding the property.

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