By Roger Drouin
Still Running Strong
Runners participated in the 13th annual Ringling Bridge Run Saturday, Jan. 16. The Sarasota YMCA hosted the four-mile road race, which began at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and crossed over the John Ringling Bridge. A break from some stormy weather gave hundreds of participants clear and sunny skies on race day.
But it’s not the only race in town. The Sarasota Music Half Marathon is coming up Feb. 7. Runners will pass bands 42 times during the 13.1-mile half marathon, according to the marathon’s website. The race begins at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, goes over the Ringling Bridge to St. Armand’s Circle and back, past marina Jack Marina and then heads into some of Sarasota’s neighborhoods.
Sarasota County opens new fire station
Sarasota County hosted a grand opening celebration for Fire Station 17 on Jan. 7 in the heart of one of the fastest growing areas of the county.
The celebration and traditional “uncoupling of the hose” ceremony honored the completion of Sarasota County's newest fire station at Nathan Benderson Park. The single-story fire station, at 5431 Desoto Road, is more than 12,000 square feet and features three truck bays, full time staff and an advance life support ambulance. The building also houses a Sarasota County Sheriff's Office operations facility, which will be used for special projects, equipment storage and staging for large public events in the area. The sheriff's operations facility will not be staffed for daily operations and is not open to the public.
“Fire Station 17 represents Sarasota County's ongoing commitment to maintaining a first-class fire department, and allows our firefighters, EMTs and paramedics to better serve this part of the community,” said Rich Collins, Sarasota County Emergency Services Director.
This response area handles roughly 2,000 calls per year. With the continued growth of the area, which includes Nathan Benderson Park and the Mall at University Town Center, calls are expected to increase and this new station has the capacity to support that need.
The new station is designed to withstand wind speeds 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. Fire Station 17 is located at 5431 Desoto Road, Sarasota.
Investing in South County commercial
Benderson Development Co. is continuing its investment in and redevelopment of the Pelican Plaza, 8130 S. Tamiami Trail, across from Sarasota Square Mall.
The development company has bought the last piece of Pelican Plaza, becoming the sole owner of the entire plaza and bringing even more investment to south Sarasota County. The developer purchased the former Denny’s building at 8214 S. Tamiami Trail for $1.2 million last month, and filed plans for a Starbuck’s on the other end of the 13-acre property, according to county building records.
Benderson officials said the firm has secured a high-end national grocery store for the plaza.
Benderson first invested in the largely-empty plaza in 2012, before beginning a major renovation of the property. Larger tenants include Sports Authority, Total Wine, and Petco.
This area of South Tamiami Trail has also attracted larger development plans.
The co-developer of the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota is proposing a $200 million collection of upscale condominiums, retail and entertainment space and offices on a 31-acre tract less than three miles north of that plaza called Cassia Cay.
Gov. Scott talks manufacturing
Gov. Rick Scott made a Sarasota Stop Jan. 15. The governor continued his tour promoting his $1 billion tax cut plan and spoke to a small audience of community leaders about job and business growth.
Speaking at Marine Concepts, the boat manufacturing warehouse where presidential candidate Marco Rubio addressed a crowd earlier in the month, Scott said that Florida is growing and that his focus in 2016 would be to ensure that job creation continues. The speech was part of his “Million Miles for a Million Jobs” campaign, a nine-city tour meant to tout the roughly 1 million Florida jobs created since Scott took office five years ago and promote a tax-cutting plan the governor says will create more work opportunities. Scott spent time talking about the goals he outlined in his “State of the State” address to the Florida Legislature: to cut taxes for businesses and manufacturers by $1 billion and create a $250 million economic incentive fund to attract new businesses
Rubio’s visit to the area followed visits by Republican candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson to Sarasota. Rubio has climbed in the polls since earlier this summer, when his campaign called off a previously scheduled fundraiser events in Sarasota.
Comp Plan update
On Tuesday, Jan. 19 Sarasota County released its Comprehensive Plan draft. County officials also held information sessions.
The county has been overhauling its Comprehensive Plan, a large document that guides how the community’s next several decades could look. Sarasota County's comprehensive plan outlines long-range planning on everything from transportation to economic development to environmental protections. The document guides how the county develops and grows. County officials held several public workshops starting back in February.
The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the plan in April, 2016, and the board of County Commissioners will hold hearings in June and October, 2016.
County privatizes paratransit services
In looking to trim budget costs, the Sarasota County Commission last month unanimously approved a contract to privatize paratransit transportation at Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT). The paratransit service, which is provided by buses marked as “SCAT Plus,” is for individuals with disabilities who are unable to use regular SCAT bus service.
On Jan. 12, county commissioners awarded an $18-million, three-year contract with Ride Right Transit LLC of Lake St. Louis, MO, which should produce annual savings of $600,000, as SCAT Director Rocky Burke told commissioners.
The firm will lease SCAT’s paratransit equipment for $1 per vehicle per year, a Jan. 12 memo to the board notes. Ride Right also will bring in new equipment, and it will provide updated technology, including mobile terminals that will enable SCAT to collect real-time data.
Additionally, Ride Right will retain all the full-time employees operating the county’s paratransit vehicles, Burke said, and the firm will continue to subcontract services to South County Transport Ventures, a local business with which SCAT has been working.
County pitches in for LBK park upgrade
The town of Longboat Key will be getting a little help when it comes to making improvements at its Bayfront Park.
In December, the county approved a joint project agreement with the Town of Longboat Key for the expansion and development of Bayfront Park, with the County contribution to project funding in an amount not to exceed $2 million.
The town and county also entered into an interlocal agreement that states the town is responsible for the park’s maintenance and upkeep.
In 2007, Sarasota County purchased the 3.54-acre Bayfront Park Addition, a Gulf-to-Bay property located adjacent to the Town of Longboat Key-owned Bayfront Park, according to Sarasota County. The addition was acquired through the Neighborhood Parkland Acquisition Program for approximately $8 million. The Town partnered with the County in the development of a park concept plan in 2009, including a series of public workshops. The concept planning included both the existing Bayfront Park and the adjacent County-owned property for the addition.
In 2011, Longboat Key purchased a 0.71-acre parcel immediately north of Bayfront Park (4111 Gulf of Mexico Drive). In 2013, the Town contracted with the Urban Land Institute (ULI) for an advisory services panel exercise. The ULI panel made several recommendations to the town of Longboat, including that the town expand the recreation activities at Bayfront Park and plan for a community/cultural center at a different location. As a result, the previously approved concept plan was revised to include the additional property that had been acquired on the north side of Bayfront Park and address the ULI panel recommendations.
A plan for St. Armands garage
The city continues to consider plans for a possible parking garage serving St. Armands Circle, and a consultant has outlined a plan to assign a segment of the cost to property owners in the commercial tourist district.
Leaders on St. Armands Circle have been calling for a garage to address a parking shortage in the area. Landowners, merchants and residents have all offered their support for the most recent effort to construct a garage along North Adams Drive, and the city is still reviewing the final report from consulting firm Burton and Associates before sharing it with St. Armands stakeholders.