A Message From Our Chairman – August/September 2016

Parking Meters—the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

In recent months, the return of paid parking to downtown Sarasota has ­become one of the city’s most ­debated and controversial issues.

Ron Soto, SDMA's Chairman

Ron Soto, SDMA’s Chairman

Right now, I am in a precarious position, ­because, personally, I think that parking ­meters may have certain advantages in downtown Sarasota. It will, for example, ­eliminate ­employee parking on downtown’s streets and ­avenues, thus leaving parking ­spaces open for our customers. Parking meters also create an ­ongoing turnover of ­spaces so more visitors can access parking in close ­proximity to their dining, retail and service destinations.

When the meters were installed several years ago, I actually ­experienced an uptake in business at Soto’s Optical Boutique, ­although I do admit that it was labor intensive teaching customers how to ­properly use the meters on a day-to-day basis.

But I do understand how paid parking can hurt or hinder many of our downtown businesses, such as our coffee shops, boutiques and ­collectible stores, that are dependent on foot traffic for daily sales.

As the chairman of the SDMA, I am well aware that as of right now, 80 percent of our downtown merchants have adamantly ­indicated that they do not want paid parking downtown.

Consequently, majority opinion rules, and I will do whatever is possible to delay or deter the installation of meters on our merchants’ behalf.

Like many of you, I have been a longtime supporter of paid ­parking at our beaches. Each year, thousands of people come from around the world to experience our beautiful beaches, and it is my belief that the beach-goers or tourists—and not our customers—should pay parking fees to ­generate revenue for the city of Sarasota.

Despite merchant objections, the City Commission is on a fast track to install meters on Main Street and Palm Avenue by the spring of 2017.

According to Mark Lyons, the city’s parking manager, parking in the city’s garages will remain free—except for citywide events—for now.

It is my hope that the parking garages always will remain free of charge or, at the very least, until all of the meters have been installed throughout downtown Sarasota and in the Southside Shopping Plaza and St. Armands Circle. We all must operate on the same plane in order for the new paid parking program to be successful.
We have been assured by the parking department that there will be an opportunity for merchants to test the meters prior to their installation. Several “smart” models that offer payment by coins and credit cards or via cell phones, as well as merchant advertising and/or wayfinding signage, will be on display for review. All SDMA members should take advantage of this ­opportunity to have a voice in the final decision.

We also have been told that provisions will be made to install several short-term parking spaces on every block to enable ­customers to park for 10 or 15 minutes for quick pick-ups or drop-offs at local merchants.

In conclusion, the thing that is needed most if—or when—the city begins installing parking meters in downtown Sarasota is ongoing and effective communication between the city and the merchants to make sure that the new paid parking program is implemented smoothly and efficiently, without any disruption in business. Lack of communication was among the many issues that made the city’s last attempt to install parking meters such an unsuccessful and frustrating experience.

Please weigh in! I would love to hear your comments about parking meters in downtown Sarasota, and I ­encourage you to voice your ­opinion by clicking here to send an e-mail to sdmavoice@gmail.com.

 

A Message from Our Chairman – June/July 2016

The facts are undeniable—the landscape of downtown Sarasota is evolving as new condominiums and hotels, as well as office and mixed-use projects, are currently in development or nearing completion.

According to the City of ­Sarasota’s Office of Downtown Economic ­Development, construction projects ­valued at close to $700 million are now in the works. And evidence is all around us—just look at the skyline as you drive toward the city, across the John Ringling Causeway.
While downtown’s revitalization is ­destined to have a tremendous impact on our economy by attracting new residents, visitors and businesses to the city, there is one ­characteristic that must remain unchanged in order to preserve Sarasota’s uniqueness that has always been—and continues to be—what I believe is the city’s biggest draw.

That characteristic is the sense of community established by the mom and pop businesses that line downtown’s streets and avenues.
Growing up in Sarasota, I always have believed that the ­foundation of downtown Sarasota’s charm has been the small, family-owned businesses that you can visit year after year and be greeted by the same owners who know their customers by name.
Ron Campion, owner of Kennedy Studios at 1472 Main Street, for example, has been greeting customers for the past 28 years.
Master jeweler Karl Shrode, Jr., and his daughter, Susan ­Shrode- Berry, a gemologist, continue their family’s 80-year tradition of selling exquisite jewelry that was started in 1936 by Karl’s parents, Ethyl and Karl Shrode, when Shrode Jewelers opened at 1433 Main Street.
And, of course, I personally have been greeting customers at ­Soto’s Opticians on Main Street for the past 41 years.

It is the owners of downtown’s mom & pop businesses that will bend over backwards to make sure you are satisfied with your purchases…they will open earlier or stay later if you cannot stop by during normal business hours…they offer pickup and delivery ­services to their loyal patrons…they take a genuine interest in your life, sitting beside you, offering a shoulder to cry on if you have lost a loved one or celebrating the birth of a new baby in your family.

You often don’t find this level of service in corporate America,­ simply ­because everything points to the bottom line, and this kind of ­personalized attention simply is not profitable for big businesses.

But here in downtown Sarasota, these fine folks that willingly offer this attentive service day in and day out are the heart and soul of our merchant community. And many of the patrons who visit these businesses are not just “customers”; instead, they are people with whom local business owners share lasting relationships and, more often than not, enduring friendships.

With an influx of bigger money chains within the city perimeters, along with the development of mega malls just a few short miles away, it is up to us, as downtown residents and business owners, to uphold the spirit of community that has made downtown ­Sarasota an internationally respected shopping destination on the ­Suncoast.

I encourage each and every one of you to shop locally and ­support our local mom and pop businesses that have been the backbone of our city since its earliest days…and that The VOICE will be ­spotlighting in future issues.

In the light of the city’s projected growth and development, I ­certainly don’t want to lose the charm and uniqueness of ­downtown Sarasota…do you?

A Message From Our Chairman – May 2016

It’s hard to believe that ­summer is right around the corner, but the Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association (SDMA) and other area

organizations are planning ahead, hosting an ­array of ­exciting events that promise to bring thousands of locals and visitors to downtown in the weeks and months to come.

Mark your calendars for Father’s Day on Sunday, June 19, when the SDMA and Vintage Motors of Sarasota will be ­sponsoring the Fourth Annual Fathers & Fenders Car Show in Five Points Park. Held rain or shine, this popular event draws hundreds of vintage car owners and thousands of attendees ­eager to indulge Dad’s love of cars on his special day. A true family event, Fathers & Fenders will be held from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and will feature live music, delicious food and a full bar!

Thanks to Suncoast Charities for Children and its executive director, Lucy Nicandri, the 32nd Annual Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix Festival—which has grown from a small boat race to a nine-day event—will be held once again from Saturday, June 25, through Monday, July 4, offering more than a dozen events for families to enjoy! Of special interest is the “Boats by the Bay Downtown Block Party” on Friday, July 1, and the “Fireworks Spectacular” that will light up the sky at the bayfront after nightfall on July 4.

I also would like to take this opportunity to remind you to submit a photo of your dog for the “Downtown Wag’s” 1st Cover Photo Contest! One lucky winner will be featured on the cover of the ­August/September issue of The VOICE and will win a gift basket filled with goodies! The contest is open to everyone who lives and works in downtown Sarasota. And there’s good news—the deadline has been ­extended to Friday, June 24, which gives you plenty of time to submit a photo online at www.sarasotadowntownmerchants.com.

Now, chances are your pup isn’t any cuter than my dog—JR, our mascot at Soto ­Opticians, who is pictured below—but enter your photos, anyway! Not to ­worry…JR isn’t eligible to enter, but he is wondering if he can be one of the contest’s judges!

Finally, we are running another contest in this issue of The VOICE to test how well you know downtown ­Sarasota: Can you identify the location of the waterfall featured on our cover? If so, enter the contest online at www.sarasotadowntownmerchants.com and become eligible to win a gift certificate that generously has been donated by Sully at Patricks 1481!

I hope to see all of our SDMA members at the monthly meeting on Thursday, May 12, when Captain Kevin Stiff of the ­Sarasota ­Police Department will be our guest speaker. See the SDMA ­website and watch your e-mail for all of the details!

JR, the mascot at Soto's Opticians

A Message from the Chairman – April 2016

As vagrancy on our streets continues to be one of downtown’s most critical and controversial issues, a new strategy to discourage visitors,

Ron Soto, SDMA's Chairman

Ron Soto, SDMA’s Chairman

residents and merchants from giving money on the streets is now in place.

It’s called “Your Kindness Can Kill,” and the new campaign will redirect donations to local agencies that are not only in place in Sarasota, but ready and willing to provide the food, clothing and shelter needed to keep people off of our streets.

Let me reiterate: The money we are giving to people on our streets is not feeding the hungry, but feeding their addictions.

The statistics first cited by Robert G. Marbut Jr., Ph.D., in his study of the homeless and vagrant populations in Sarasota County three years ago still hold true: 93 percent of all the money that is given to people on the streets is not used to pay for food, clothing or shelter. The sad truth is that these “donations” are, instead, used to pay for drugs, alcohol and prostitution.

The new “Your Kindness Can Kill” campaign will include the printing of 4 x 6-inch cards that warn residents and visitors of the potentially fatal dangers of giving money on the streets. On the back of the cards, the names, addresses and contact information for local agencies in Sarasota that are willing to help will be printed so that ALL donations can be redirected.

+++++THIS KINDNESS CARD image1 - BACK OF CARD

 

Keep in mind—money handed out on the street is not tax deductible; donations made directly to our local agencies, however, are legitimate tax deductions.

Our strategy is to recruit volunteers to stand near the “hot spots” in downtown where the vagrants post their signs. Volunteers will hand out these cards to residents and visitors to encourage them to make their donations directly to local agencies.

It is important to, once again, differentiate between Sarasota’s homeless population and the vagrants who are sitting on our street corners begging for money. It is the “vagrants” or “vagabonds” that are disrupting business and annoying—even frightening—downtown shoppers, diners and theater-goers.

The definition of donation is “giving to a worthy cause or charity,” and giving money on the streets is neither; it is nothing more than a handout.

If you, as downtown merchants, would like to join in the effort to end vagrancy on our streets once and for all, please consider volunteering for an hour or two to hand out our new cards.

We are counting on your help to make a difference.

After all, it takes a village…

 

A Message from the Chairman – April 2016

Ron Soto, SDMA's Chairman

Ron Soto, SDMA’s Chairman

As vagrancy on our streets continues to be one of downtown’s most critical and controversial issues, a new strategy to discourage visitors, residents and merchants from giving money on the streets is now in place.

It’s called “Your Kindness Can Kill,” and the new campaign will redirect donations to local agencies that are not only in place in Sarasota, but ready and willing to provide the food, clothing and shelter needed to keep people off of our streets.

Let me reiterate: The money we are giving to people on our streets is not feeding the hungry, but feeding their addictions.

The statistics first cited by Robert G. Marbut Jr., Ph.D., in his study of the homeless and vagrant populations in Sarasota County three years ago still hold true: 93 percent of all the money that is given to people on the streets is not used to pay for food, clothing or shelter. The sad truth is that these “donations” are, instead, used to pay for drugs, alcohol and prostitution.

Were you aware that the convenience stores in downtown Sarasota have some of the highest beer sales in the state of Florida? What does that say about where money is being spent?

The new “Your Kindness Can Kill” campaign will include the printing of 4 x 6-inch cards, pictured above left, that warn residents and visitors of the potentially fatal dangers of giving money on the streets. On the back of the cards, the names, addresses and contact information for local agencies in Sarasota that are willing to help will be printed so that ALL donations can be redirected.

Keep in mind—money handed out on the street is not tax deductible; donations made directly to our local agencies, however, are legitimate tax deductions.

Our strategy is to recruit volunteers to stand near the “hot spots” in downtown where the vagrants post their signs. Volunteers will hand out these cards to residents and visitors to encourage them to make their donations directly to local agencies.

It is important to, once again, differentiate between Sarasota’s homeless population and the vagrants who are sitting on our street corners begging for money. It is the “vagrants” or “vagabonds” that are disrupting business and annoying—even frightening—downtown shoppers, diners and theater-goers.

The definition of donation is “giving to a worthy cause or charity,” and giving money on the streets is neither; it is nothing more than a handout.

If you, as downtown merchants, would like to join in the effort to end vagrancy on our streets once and for all, please consider volunteering for an hour or two to hand out our new cards.

We are counting on your help to make a difference.

After all, it takes a village…


Chairman’s Message – January 2016

Ron Soto, SDMA Chairman

Ron Soto, SDMA Chairman

 

As we welcome 2016, the Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association (SDMA), like many of you, has established new goals and redefined our vision for the city we serve for the coming year.

First and foremost is the enduring challenge we face in managing the homeless and vagrant population on our city’s streets and in our parks.

And because the SDMA is here to serve you, we are facing this issue with even more resolve, but with a far gentler approach as we step up our efforts to eliminate panhandling in our city.

The “Downtown Cares” program that we launched in 2015 with money “banks” in downtown shops, restaurants and businesses will continue in the New Year with a more positive message, but with the same fundamental goal, which is to discourage community residents and city visitors from giving money to panhandlers on our streets.

The statistics have not changed: 93 percent of this “donated” money is used not for housing and food, but for drugs, alcohol and other illicit behaviors.

Perhaps what is most disturbing is the fact that many people that give cash to panhandlers are erroneously told that money is needed to receive food, clothing and shelter at The Salvation Army here in Sarasota.

Absolutely nothing could be further from the truth.

The Salvation Army, located at 1400 Tenth Street, has sponsored a comprehensive program designed to help homeless people get back on their feet. Called “QLife,” the program’s purpose is simple, yet straightforward as it strives “to achieve 100 percent quality of life for all” in Sarasota.

At The Salvation Army’s Center for Hope, three days “of comfort”—including food, clothing and a place to sleep—are provided to the homeless at no charge. Individuals who meet with a case worker each day can then stay for an additional four days. At the Quality of Life Center, specific goals are defined, and the person can extend his or her stay for yet another 21 days at no cost. The individual can stay even longer, contributing 30 percent of his or her income to The Salvation Army until appropriate housing has been found.

To support the life-changing opportunities available at The Salvation Army, the SDMA has established a new partnership with the organization to more extensively publicize its QLife services.

I hope you, too, will support and strengthen our partnership with The Salvation Army by taking a proactive approach in sharing this critical message with your customers: Giving money to panhandlers not only perpetuates the problem, but it keeps people on our streets and affects the quality of the downtown experience we all work so hard to uphold.

For additional information about QLife services and the many opportunities that are offered at The Salvation Army, please visit SRQLife.us.

Chairman’s Message – December 2015

Recently a report in a major media source revealed that there is a renewed retail trend throughout the country to return to“mom and pop” stores, where customers are more than just numbers but are, instead, neighbors. More and more shoppers, the report reveals, are moving away from big box stores —including one major retailer whose earnings were at an all-time low last quarter—in search of better service, better quality ­merchandise and more personal ­relationships with shop owners.

In light of this trend, we, as downtown merchants, have an important message to share with area residents and visitors to our city:

Why leave downtown for your holiday shopping?

To welcome our holiday shoppers, the SDMA has been hard at work to ensure that downtown Sarasota looks more festive than ever!

All of the snowflakes that adorn the street lights on the 1300 to 1600 blocks have been completely refurbished and rewired, with new LED lights installed, so they will be shine brightly throughout our city.

We also will have wreaths on display in Five Points Park, as well as our beautiful Christmas tree that will once again be decorated by Jim Reese and Neil Jennings, owners of Palm Ave Express and Salon 41 on Palm Avenue.

This year—for the first time—our annual tree lighting and Holiday Party in the Park will be held on the first Thursday of the month, December 3, from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. Santa and Mrs. Claus will be there handing out candy canes to the children in attendance, and there will be live music, including Christmas carolers, and refreshments.

The tree lighting will be held at 7:30 p.m., followed by a brand new addition to the celebration—a family showing of a holiday movie in the park!, So, be sure to bring a blanket and chairs, and join us as we jump start the holiday season here in downtown Sarasota!

I also encourage you to welcome in the New Year in downtown Sarasota at our annual New Year’s Eve bash that the SDMA is organizing this year. The festivities begin at 1:00 p.m. on December 31, when the carnival rides open at Lemon Avenue and State Street, promising an afternoon and evening of family fun! Typically drawing as many as 25,000 attendees each year, the New Year’s Eve party also will include live music and a DJ on three stages, bars along our city streets and the traditional Pineapple Drop at midnight. Be sure to make your dinner reservations early!

More details about the New Year’s Eve festivities can be found in the article on page 5.

In closing, I think it is important to point out that these wonderful holiday events are not funded or organized by the City of Sarasota, but by our downtown merchants. It is just one more example of the commitment our local business men and women continue to uphold in ­making downtown Sarasota a premier shopping, dining and ­entertainment destination.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas, one and all!

Chairman’s Message – October/November 2015

With the start of season just around the corner, the SDMA is hard at work planning a variety of events and festivities to inspire

­community residents and visitors to consistently count ­downtown ­Sarasota as a not-to-be-missed ­destination for a myriad of entertainment ­opportunities.

But, before I mention all that is going on in the coming weeks and months, I would like to announce that Paul ­Thorpe, known throughout Sarasota as “Mr. Downtown,” has agreed to serve as SDMA’s new ­executive director. Paul brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to his new position, and we are very ­fortunate to have him working on our team.

He has, in fact, been instrumental in orchestrating the design and development of the SDMA’s new downtown map. When open, the pocket-sized map will include a complete view of downtown at a glance.

Watch for delivery of this often-requested and much-needed map this month.

Now, on to exciting news about our upcoming events!

It is SDMA’s vision to make not just the first Friday of the month, but every Friday night a reason to visit ­downtown Sarasota. Consequently, we are starting to plan fun, family events to kick off every weekend.

As you know, every First Friday is the Palm Avenue Art Work, which is hosted by the Downtown Sarasota Alliance and offers special themed events, music, refreshments and more in the lower part of downtown.

On September 11, we launched “Cruise Night,” a brand new event that featured ­antique and classic cars, as well as hot rods. This popular event will be held on each ­second Friday going forward and, once the new roundabout is complete, we will move to Lemon Avenue and add DJ music.

Other ideas under consideration for the third and fourth Fridays of the month include “Music in the Park”—featuring live music, food trucks and beer and wine sales in Five Points Park—and “Art on Main & ­Beyond,” an evening that will spotlight the work of local artists, who will set up easels and artwork displays throughout downtown.

In addition to our plans to jump start Friday nights, here are more up-and-coming, SDMA-sponsored events that are certain to bring attendees of all ages downtown:

  • Dog-a-Ween—Saturday, October 31—Five Points Park
  • Sarasota Fall Fine Art Festival—Saturday, November 21 & Sunday, November 22—Gulfstream Avenue
  • The Annual Holiday Tree Lighting—NEW NIGHT! ­Thursday, December 3—Five Points Park
  • New Year’s Eve Celebration & Pineapple Drop—­Thursday, December 31 & Friday, January 1

I invite each and every one of you to get ­involved by volunteering at and/or participating in these events and to encourage your friends, family members and ­customers to support SDMA’s efforts to continue to ­cultivate more and more reasons to visit—and enjoy—downtown ­Sarasota.

 

Chairman’s Message – August/September 2015

 

Big changes are happening in downtown Sarasota!


On July 22, 2015, at 5:00 p.m., after months upon months of ­construction, the State Street ­Parking

Garage officially opened for business! And by all counts, it was well worth the wait, ­bringing 400 additional parking spots to our ­downtown shopping and ­dining destinations.


In addition to easing ­congestion at the Palm Avenue Parking ­Garage, the convenient location of the new State Street facility now ­provides long-term parking in ­another area of our city, which should have a positive ­affect on the traffic flow in and out of downtown, while also opening up two-hour parking spots in front of shops on our streets and avenues.


The construction of another roundabout at the always congested intersection of Orange Avenue and Main Street is another boon for downtown’s future traffic flow. While the detours during the development of the roundabout may be exasperating, the project, which is headed by Swift Construction, is certain to be completed on time and, even more importantly, will keep traffic moving along Main Street as we, once again, approach season.


Speaking of season, the Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association (SDMA) is gearing up for numerous events that will take us through the end of the year and well into 2016!


First on the calendar is the brand new “Second Friday Cruise Night,” which will be held on Friday, September 11, in the Baptist Church parking lot on State Street. Engines will be revving when all kinds of cars—from antiques and ­classics to hot rods—will be lined up side by side for an ­evening of amazing auto show entertainment!


On Saturday, October 31, Five Points Park will be the frightfully fun setting for the Fourth Annual Dog-a-Ween, hosted by Wet Noses and the SDMA. Held from 9:00 a.m. to noon, there will be music and entertainment, as well as a costume parade with prizes in five categories. Registration is $5 for each dog and proceeds will benefit Royal Rescue, one of our local animal organizations. For details, please see the article on page 14.


In November, the SDMA is sponsoring the Sarasota ­Outdoor Living and Home Expo and the Sarasota Fall Fine Art Festival, two major events organized by Paragon ­Productions that bring thousands of people downtown.


And have I got exciting news for December! In ­addition to hosting our Annual Tree Lighting Party in Five Points Park on a new night of the week—Thursday, December 3—SDMA is honored to take over the reins of planning ­­the Sarasota Downtown New Year’s Party 2015 from “Mr. ­Downtown,” Paul Thorpe!


If you are interested in helping to organize ­downtown Sarasota’s biggest event of the year that draws as many as 25,000 attendees to our city, send an e-mail to ­sdmavoice@gmail.com.


I challenge each and every one of you to support SDMA in its ongoing work to make downtown Sarasota a vibrant community with stellar entertainment opportunities for all!