Up & Down the Trail

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Sarasota news

by Stan Zimmerman

Correction: Writing and righting a great wrong

I’m a great believer in fixing things up front. In the last issue, I made a grievous error in a story about the end of a city witch hunt that left the city manager and information tech chief looking for new employment despite the lack of any evidence of wrongdoing – even after an extensive and expensive search.

I compared the episode to the 1950s-era witchhunt of a Senator from the upper Midwest. I meant to say Sen. Joe McCarthy…but I wrote Sen. Eugene McCarthy. The two men’s politics and activities could not be further apart. To make it even worse, I campaigned in 1968 for Eugene “Clean Gene” McCarthy for President, canvasing voters door-to-door.

“Tail-gunner” Joe McCarthy ruined the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of people with his secret lists of communists in government. “Clean Gene” McCarthy was the first national political figure to call for an end to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. His campaign led then-President Lyndon Johnson to retire rather than seek a second term.

North Trail gets “overlay light”

A plan three years in the making to fight neglect and blight along the North Tamiami Trail “gateway” to Sarasota received the green light in April, but minus its most critical component. The Sarasota City Commission approved a redevelopment plan called the North Trail Overlay District.

But commissioners by a 3-2 margin stripped the plan of the one element supports hoped would spur activity – administrative site plan review. Instead of plowing through public hearings at the planning board and city commission, developers could seek staff approval only without the politics.

But “administrative approval” is controversial. “The community gets nothing and it is unclear what the developer gets,” said City Commissioner Terry Turner.  He was joined by Commissioners Willie Shaw and Shannon Snyder to strip administrative approval from the overlay plan.

The omission may prove lethal to the new effort. Said Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown, “It doesn’t have a carrot anymore.”       

Paint the bridge blue

Sometime this month, the Ringling Causeway Bridge to Bird Key and St. Armands will switch to blue lighting underneath the archways. What started as a one-month stunt turned into a permanent pursuit as two local businesses got in the act.

Katie Klauber Moulton proposed a one-month switch to publicize Child Abuse Prevention Month in April. As she trolled the usually stuffy bureaucracies of the Florida Department of Transportation and the U.S. Coast Guard, she received surprisingly strong support for the idea. And not just as a one-month stand.

Evolucia is offering blue LED lights – which will save electricity – and marine-quality fittings, while Roadrunner’s construction staff will make it happen.

Tube Dudes go national

While some downtown people worry that too many Tube Dudes might cheapen Sarasota’s tony aura, the creator is getting ready to open nine showrooms across the county because of strong interest and demand.

The smiling life-size figurines are made of extruded aluminum tubes and finished in bright powder-coated colors. They can be shaped to order, from a beautician with a blow-dryer to a fisherman with a catch. They can hold signs, scissors, menus, mailboxes, or just wave hello.        

“Every city has its defining art. Chicago has its bulls. Bradenton has its geckos on the wall. Sarasota has the Tube Due,” said Scott Gerber. He’s the creator-inventor-sculptor. “When people buy one and take it home, they say it reminds them of their visit [to Sarasota].”

Four giant “Dudes” are being installed in New York City’s linear High Line Park over the lower west side of Manhattan. And four were in the arena for March’s NCAA basketball finals.         

The $100,000 lighting failure

One of the first projects for the newly created Downtown Improvement District two years ago was installation of lights in the trees at Five Points Park. Using new technology, the $81,000 lights would vary their tints in a dance of changing lights.

While they were pretty, they were also unreliable. As the trees grew, the wires snapped. Rodents gnawed at other lines, and the warranty covered neither tree growth nor acts of God. The district spent another $18,000 for repairs.

Failures continued until only three of the original 31 strands were working before the district decided to throw in the towel and consider replacing the color-changers with plain white LED lights. “People are going to saw we blew $90,000,” said district Chairman Ernie Ritz.

Chalk Fest stumbles forward

One of the city’s best-attended street events is also a great nightmare for city officials. The tradition continues, as the Chalk Festival came forward last month to ask for city help to defer a few fees for the November event.

Last year the festival organizers neglected to tell city officials the duration of the event. They were thinking it was another long weekend. In reality it was 10 days.

This year’s surprise was a request to waive for up to $17,000 in fees. “This year the theme is honoring veterans, we call it the Legacy of Valor,” said organizer Denise Kowal. “Freedom is not free, and neither is the chalk festival. It needs $1.2 million each year.”

Unfortunately the city does not “waive” fees. Instead it reimburses departments for their efforts with grants. But this year there is no “grant program.”

Kowal’s application was not complete either. The city commission finally blew up. “Last year it was a 10-day festival, but we were never told that. Every year we’re having to discuss this. At some point we should have this down by now. Every year is last minute. Every year it’s something else,” said City Commissioner Shannon Snyder.

Never fear. For the past five years, any number of “something elses” have been been resolved, and there’s little doubt the same will hold for this year.

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