Posted on August 26, 2016
Sarasota is a town on the cusp of becoming a city. And there’s a building boom going on downtown — mostly hotels and high-end condominiums. One, ironically named “The Vue,” blocks some of the view of Sarasota Bay as it crowds in just a few feet from two of the busiest streets in town in a very pedestrian-unfriendly way.
This surge of new construction dwarfs the older “historic” parts of downtown. Of course, change and growth can add vitality and diversity to a community, helping it become a city. On the other hand, too much of one thing can put a community out of balance and sap its strength.
Many of these new buildings will be filled with wealthy older residents looking for a low-key but upscale lifestyle. Nothing wrong with that — unless, of course, they put up a metaphorical wall around downtown to keep out others who are different. In that case, this new growth will suffocate rather than vitalize, and the town will become not a city, but a slightly more dense area of the sprawl that is so much of Florida.
Which will it be for Sarasota? The jury is out.
Posted on December 29, 2014
A new enclosed shopping mall has been built here in Sarasota. All over the country malls are struggling, being re-purposed or abandoned. But here a new one just opened. It is big. It is new. It is filled with things from other places.
They call it “University Town Center”. It is near University Parkway, and in the center of a very large parking lot, so perhaps that counts. There are some other big-box stores and their parking lots nearby, but no real town. This is the suburban fringe.
At the grand entrance just past the valet parking, one is dwarfed by the glass “foyer” containing a water feature and a group of indoor palm “trees”. High expectations for an upscale experience are tempered only by the dressed up, but ordinary, chain restaurants flanking either side.
Whether or not the mall will be a financial success remains to be seen. However, it is unlikely to ever serve as an authentic “town center”. Very little about it is authentic, from the conditioned and freshened air, to the indoor palms, the furniture that discourages rather than encourages interaction, and the piped in music and other sounds designed to create the illusion of excitement and anticipation. It is a monument to creating and fulfilling desires for things — not for creating any sense of community.
With only a few exceptions, the stores and the goods being sold here are the same as in dozens or even thousands of other locations across the country. Nothing, not even the air is authentically from this place. It doesn’t even smell like Florida. One could be anywhere.
But the parking lot was full and people were shopping. This mall is an artifact of our time. The sameness of corporate-led consumerism is becoming a defining characteristic of American life in the 21st century. But will there be a groundswell of those who eventually turn away from the siren song in search of the personal, the authentic, and community?
Posted on July 9, 2014
Palm Avenue is one of the more attractive streets in downtown Sarasota. It is lined with art galleries, boutiques and restaurants, palm trees (many of which will soon be removed), historic buildings (some of which will be removed to make way for another high rise for the affluent), and even a large verdant grassy patch (soon to be dug up and covered over with a hotel).
Even after these changes, Palm Avenue will still be attractive — and probably even more comfortable for some. But it will also be different, and so will the rest of the city. With every change, the benefits of the change are trumpeted — and the losses and questions papered over with glossy brochures. These “Perspectives on Palm Avenue” ask whether we are building the kind of city we want.
Posted on May 3, 2014
It’s always worth a look behind the facades to see what’s happening in the alley. These images all came from a one-block section of alley in the heart of downtown Sarasota, Florida. In addition to the now-defunct “Golden Apple” dinner theater, they show the backsides of a few of the city’s finer restaurants, a brand new parking ramp, and some graffiti on the back wall of the Opera House, where they often sing in Italian. Of course, there was much more to see there, too.
So next time you want to get to know a town, spend some time in the alleys.
Posted on March 6, 2014
Every year the City of Sarasota hosts “Thunder by the Bay” — a motorcycle event and charity fundraiser in the heart of downtown along Sarasota Bay. Thousands of motorcyclists and spectators crowd the streets.
Of course, there are always a few residents in the high-end high rises who complain about the music, the partying on the street, and especially the “thunder” from the motorcycles. But everyone else seems to enjoy the excitement, the crowds, the noise, and the motorcycles. This is their chance to shine.
And shine they do. The colors, shapes and designs — while constrained by the laws of physics and rules of the road — are as varied and evocative as any art. And that thunder is just a part of how they speak. We don’t all have to be the same, do we?
Posted on July 5, 2013
A recent proposal to bring a second war-themed statue to Sarasota’s Bayfront stimulated heated discussion about public art and the types of sculptures that are desirable and appropriate there. But throughout the discussion no one mentioned one of the biggest sculptures of them all — the tall blue glass monument to finance and commerce located just across the street. Whether or not you believe buildings can be art, this building’s scale, prominent location, and impenetrable reflectivity say something about the activities that take place within.
At a more human scale, the object below was “just lying there” in the sand along the breakwater. You can make of it what you will. Regardless of what you see, its presence and the light were a reminder that sometimes meaning can be found just lying at our feet, needing no monument to be raised into the sky.
Posted on May 10, 2013
I’ll admit it, the doorway to the old Sarasota High School doesn’t always look like this. But maybe it did just for moment as the afternoon light glanced off the stones — even though the doors are locked, the students elsewhere and the old building sits empty awaiting its destiny. That flash of light invites the question of how it looked to the generations of young students who walked under that graceful arch on their way to learning about life and becoming adults.
Sometimes the light is everything. In the late afternoon, low dark clouds began lifting off the horizon at Coquina Beach on the south end of Anna Maria Island. As the bright light from the sun first began to illuminate the Gulf, the green water shone like an emerald chasing away the dark.
Posted on April 18, 2013
Tucked away in a semi-abandoned storage and industrial area on the edge of downtown Sarasota is Bob’s Train, a restaurant in an old train car run by a passionate circus enthusiast. In addition to getting a reasonable lunch, one can tour three train cars loaded with the owner’s collection of pictures and other memorabilia from the long history of the Ringling circus. For anyone interested in trains or circus history, a visit to Bob’s Train is a must-do experience.
John Ringling and his brothers built an empire out of the circus business, and John and Mable Ringling began wintering in Sarasota Florida in 1907. They ultimately helped shape the community and gave it some of the cultural landmarks that Sarasota is famous for today. A bit of this history is attached to Bob’s Train, in the form of the “JOMAR – The Private Railroad Car of John and Mable Ringling.” It is the newer of two private cars owned by the Ringlings, and in need of restoration.
Posted on February 7, 2013
Along Tamiami Trail on Florida’s Gulf Coast there is a deep parking lot with old derelict boats scattered around between the parking spaces. Some are on stumps, others stuck in the ground pointing skyward. Perhaps they have been put there as decoration, or perhaps to help you find your car after a long day (or night). The sign out front says “Bob’s Boathouse,” and indeed there is an establishment set way back from the road, near the water’s edge.
Some checking revealed that this is a relocated restaurant that has been wanting to reopen for a long time, but has been stalled due to county requirements. On the day I was there, a bulldozer was at work in one corner, so perhaps things are moving again.
Much of Florida has been taken over by the new, the sleek, and the homogenized. In the midst of all this ordinariness, the originality of Bob’s Boathouse parking lot stands out. I, for one, hope it will stay.
Posted on July 27, 2012
The City of Sarasota commissioned artists to paint murals on the walls in each elevator lobby in the new Palm Avenue Garage. “Ballerina on the Wall” is my impression of a small part of “Dance” by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra. The ballerina was waiting demurely in the stairwell, a surprise and contrast to the mottled concrete walls. There are many more pictures of the murals, both in process and complete, on the architect’s Facebook page. Take a look!
“That Rooster Thing” is from a local farmstand. That rooster was there among the shoppers, standing proud, looking ready to let out a rooster roar!