Up & Down the Trail
By Roger Drouin and Debbie Flessner
Developer pitches major project
Up to 130 residential units and a large commercial center could soon rise up on 18-plus acres of vacant South Sarasota land at 7914 Tamiami Trail and just south of Holiday Drive.
According to paperwork filed with the Sarasota County Development Review Committee, BMR Funding LLC, represented by lawyer Brenda Patten, proposes to construct the “Cassia Cay” residential and commercial developments on the two South Sarasota parcels. The developer is requesting some ordinance changes to amend the binding development concept plan submitted to and approved by the county by a previous developer. One of the changes the current developer is requesting is a height increase for two of the buildings in the commercial center.
The two parcels total just over 18 acres. Property to the south is owned by Sarasota County.
A first for FLA
Florida’s first diverging diamond interchange is coming to Sarasota. FDOT officials believe the unique design will ease congestion, move high volumes of traffic, and reduce crashes at the increasingly busy interchange of I-75 and University Parkway.
Commencement of construction was marked at a Sept. 2 groundbreaking attended by Gov. Rick Scott and local elected officials, although actual construction work began a month earlier. The $74.5 million project is expected to take two years to complete. Officials hope to have the work completed before the September 2017 World Rowing Championships, which is expected to draw thousands of visitors to nearby Nathan Benderson Park.
Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, Manatee County Commission Chair Betsy Benac and Sarasota County Commission Chairwoman Carolyn Mason attended the Sept. 3 groundbreaking.
The Diverging Diamond Interchange eliminates a left turn movement onto an interstate entrance ramp. Drivers will travel on University Parkway through a cross over onto the left side of the road. They can then turn left onto the ramp without stopping. If they are not getting on the interstate, they will continue straight and cross back over to the right hand side of the road.
$5 million home sale
A walled and gated three quarter acre estate in Harbor Acres topped real estate transactions in early September, selling for $5 million.
The waterfront home features deep-water harborage and jet ski lift and bayside terraces. The interior stands out with extensive millwork, three-stop elevator, formal dining, wet bar, and a two-story wood paneled library.
Built in 1992, it has four bedrooms, three and a half baths and 4,852 square feet of living area. It previously sold for $2.7 million in 2013.
Carson plans book stop
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson will be heading to SRQ next month.
But the retired pediatric neurosurgeon, who has written eight books, is heading to town for a somewhat unusual visit for a candidate in the midst of campaign battle.
Carson is slated to appear at Bookstore1Sarasota for a stop on his book tour on Nov. 4. Those who want to attend must purchase Carson’s book from the store. Sarasota GOP officials had plans to ask Carson to also conduct a free public event in conjunction with his visit.
Twin Lakes fire station opens
Sarasota County’s Fire Station No. 16 (Twin Lakes) opened Sept. 15.
The single-story 13,000-square-foot station features three truck bays and currently houses a fire engine, an advance life support ambulance and a full-time staff. The response area handles roughly 1,200 calls a year. With the continual growth occurring east of Interstate 75, calls are expected to increase, and this station has the capacity to support that need.
The new station is designed to withstand wind loads of 150-plus miles per hour. It is also a "green" facility that is poised to achieve a minimum level of "Certified" with the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System.
According to the county’s design plans, Fire Station 16 is currently located at 5875 Hummingbird Avenue. Fire Station 16 will utilize the same floor plan as Fire Station 10 (Fruitville and Vic Edwards) with exterior modifications to complement the neighborhood.
New Ringling Museum restaurant
The Ringling Museum has welcomed a new restaurant at the former site of Treviso. In June, The Ringling’s contract expired with the owner of its catering company and on-site restaurant, Treviso. As the institution set out to find a replacement for the space within the visitor’s pavilion, nine local restaurateurs applied for the opening. Late this summer, the TableSeide Restaurant Group was chosen from among the applicants. The company operates Libby’s Café + Bar, in Southside Village, along with Louie’s Modern and The Francis downtown.
The name of the new restaurant at The Ringling: Muse.
According to the museum’s website, “Muse at The Ringling provides a comfortable yet contemporary dining experience in a magnificent setting. Muse treats food as art with a menu that features innovative items that are both visually appealing and flavorful.
Not a bad place to live …
Sarasota has made another list. It was one of only three Florida cities to make the "100 Most Livable Cities in America" 2016 list produced by Livability.com.
Livability.com's ranking of the Best Places to Live includes cities and towns with populations between 20,000 to 350,000.
The other Florida entries on the list were Boca Raton, at No. 59, and Miami Beach, at No. 79.
Livability.com says: “Overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, just south of Tampa Bay, Sarasota includes a string of eight islands that draw thousands of tourists. It's an appealing destination for tourists, which is why it landed on our list of the Best Spring Break Cities for Families. Locals enjoy year-round access to beautiful beaches, challenging golf courses, a collection of lakes 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.”
City earns procurement honor
The City of Sarasota’s Purchasing Division was awarded the 2015 Annual Achievement of Excellence in Procurement Award from the National Procurement Institute recently. This achievement recognizes national best practices in the field of procurement.
The city is one of just 26 recipients in Florida and 206 in the United States to be honored with this accolade known to purchasing professionals as the “pinnacle of procurement.”
According to city officials, on average, every year the City’s Purchasing Division facilitates 90 formal solicitations (bids, requests for proposal, invitations to negotiation) and 3,500 purchase orders for everything from construction services to office supplies to professional services. Over 3,000 purchase card transactions also are processed. All this is accomplished by just seven employees. “This award shines a light on the dedication and professional knowledge within the Purchasing Division,” said City Manager Tom Barwin.
Prescribed burn team reduces fire risks
Sarasota County's prescribed burn team has burned more than 7,000 acres on county lands this fiscal year in an effort to help prevent the spread of wildfires and protect property, people and the environment.
Since October 2014, Sarasota County Fire Department mitigation specialists have conducted 53 prescribed burns and have already surpassed their annual goal of 6,000 acres. These burns, conducted by highly skilled staff members with specialized training, mimic natural fire conditions and help prevent catastrophic wildfires by reducing hazardous conditions.
Fire is also essential for maintaining the biodiversity throughout many of Florida's habitats, according to Jon Robinson, division manager of natural area parks and preserves.
The county's team is one of more than 30 different entities authorized by the Florida Division of Forestry to conduct burns within Sarasota County.
New hotel planned for Nokomis
In January, construction is scheduled to begin on a 100-room Hilton Homes2 Suites on a plot of land that has been vacant for the past 12 years.
A corner of West Albee Farm road and U.S. 41 in Nokomis will be the site of the new property, which is expected to be open for business in late November or early December of 2016. It will be a four-story hotel, featuring a swimming pool and a hot buffet breakfast, with each of the suites containing a full-size refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave and table that pulls out from the wall.
The project is a joint venture between Sarasota-based Floridays Development Company and LODGECO Hospitality, which is headquartered in Michigan and will manage the property. Floridays has also constructed a Homes2 Suites on International Drive South in Orlando, which is scheduled to open on December 15 of this year.
Venice City Council installs a capital budget
In spite of managing to make significant improvements in the city of Venice over the years, the Venice City Council did so without the means of an official capital budget. On September 23, the Council gave their final approval to adopt a new Capital Budget plan.
All projects were previously accomplished with the use of a Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) fund or with the budgets of various city departments. The general fund for improvements within the new Capital Budget will be comprised of both local funding sources and other projects funded by taxes and fees. Council members believe that a separate capital budget will make expenditures easier to classify and understand.
For the fiscal year 2016, the city plans to spend $13 million on airport improvements, $13 million on utilities projects and $4 million on 1 Cent Sales Tax projects. Last year's 1 Cent Sales Tax project helped pay for the new Performing Arts Center at Venice High School, but now that the Center has been completed, a new city project will be eligible to receive the estimated $4.1 million funds.
Local ham radio operators bounce signal off the moon
From a garage in south Venice, four amateur radio operators accomplished something that is usually done by multi-billion dollar electronics companies–they bounced a low-powered radio signal off the moon and to another amateur operator on the other side of the world.
Joel Kreiss, Frank Rubman, Martin Himmelfarb and Jack Rapaport used a 100-watt transmitter to send their signal more than a half a million miles to Broni, Italy. It was imperative that the person on the receiving end of the signal be able to see the moon at the same time as the Venice group, so their contact in Broni was the perfect choice.
Using their signal, the men exchanged pictures of their antenna set-ups with the Broni radio operator. They said that while their antenna looked crude, like it was made of coat hangers and a broomstick, their Italian counterpart's equipment appeared much more high tech.
For their next project, the Venice group plans to try to connect with an astronaut aboard the International Space Station.
Changing insurance carriers a win for City of Venice
Two years ago, the City of Venice decided to sign a three-year contract with Ascension Benefits & Insurance Solutions of Florida for its property and liability insurance business.
That move has resulted in both a hundred thousand dollar savings in premiums the first year alone, and the presentation of a more than fifty thousand dollar refund check to the city last month.
Also impressive has been the response time of the insurance carrier when their services have been required. In August, a lightning strike caused a fire in the restroom at Maxine Barrett Park, on the Island. Ascension was immediately on site to assess the damage and quickly delivered an air-conditioned restroom trailer, with electric and plumbing hookups. Their coverage will also include construction of a brand new restroom to replace the damaged one.
City administrative services director Alan Bullock told the City Council in September that in early 2016, he plans to present to them a proposed contract renewal to extend the insurance carrier’s service for another year.