Learning from Sarasota

July 18, 2006 9 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Discovering successful urban redevelopment strategies from our cultured sibling in SW Florida..

Learning from Sarasota

Discovering successful urban redevelopment strategies from our cultured sibling in SW Florida..

City Description
Incorporated as a city in 1921, Sarasota was an early Floridian tourist destination and the winter home of Marble and John Ringling of the famed Ringling Brothers Circus. Its also been recognized by many as the cultural center of Florida, since the 1920’s. While much smaller than the larger Floridian metropolitan areas, this city and its surroundings are keeping pace with its larger Floridian siblings in regards to urban infill and high-rise development. As what was done with visits to Charleston and Philadelphia, Metro Jacksonville examines urban design techniques and opportunities that could be applied our own downtown core.

City of Sarasota
14.9 square miles
55,596 (2005 estimate)
Sarasota-Bradenton MSA 673,035 (2005 estimate)

City of Jacksonville
757.7 square miles
800,000+ (2005 estimate)
Jacksonville MSA 1,223,802 (2005 estimate)


Learning from Sarasota


This remains a dirty word to a majority of downtown landowners, but there’s no doubt it brings the results if one is interested in seeing a pedestrian friendly atmosphere lined with retail and dining.

Main Street runs through the heart of downtown. There is a continuous line of outdoor cafes, restaurants, retail shops and art galleries fronting the street. Parking along Main is diagonal and limited to 2 hours with no charge. Our downtown has a much higher percentage of office workers, making the idea of free parking more of a challenge. If we would like to see the downtown retail environment thrive, we do need to examine and implement the parking solutions the Downtown Action Plan Committee discussed and debated back in April.


Originally constructed as a 300,000sf mall in the heart of downtown, to keep shoppers from fleeing the suburbs, Main Plaza was a failure from the start and officially received its death blow when Maas Brothers ceased operations in 1991. However, today it shines as an example of cashing in when the opportunity presents itself. Today, the interior of the mall now serves as an office building, the old department store space is now the home of a twenty-screen megaplex and the retail spaces, that once lined Main Street are now sit down restaurants with outdoor dining.

So what does this have to do with Jacksonville? Remember a place called the Landing? Opportunity has been helplessly banging on the doors of city hall for nearly three years and to this date, for some strange reason, few in charge are willing to open the door and let the private sector do what it does best…develop!


While strolling the streets of downtown Sarasota, one can’t help but notice how clean and well kept the streets and sidewalks are. Just routine maintenance of things that can easily go unnoticed (ex. street lamps, trash pickup, etc.) can make a world of difference regarding an urban environment’s image to the general public. Unfortunately, Jacksonville still has a long way to go in this department.


Make no doubt about it, everyone loves parks and open space, but there is still a need to properly integrate them with appropriate surroundings in an urban setting. While our pocket parks serve more as landscaped pockets of isolation, Sarasota parks serve as a great example of how to integrate small parks and pockets of open spaces with the buildings and environment surrounding them. Here restaurants, offices, and residences open up into these outdoor spaces. For those who’ve played an integral role in the pocket park planned along Main Street, take heed, before its too late. Those .75 acres could be used for something more worthwhile and contributing to the downtown core.


Ever wonder what to do with old abandoned alleys and narrow spaces left over from building demolitions, many of which are currently used for parking or free hotels by urban outdoorsmen? Mattison’s City Grill, located on the corner of Main Street and Lemon Avenue, could serve as the answer. Other than the small kitchen area in the back of an adjacent building, the entire business is located outside on a small narrow plot of land.

There are several of these underutilized spots in the Northbank. One that immediately comes to mind (only used by the homeless) is located on Main Street, directly across from 11 East. With a little creativity, these left over and overlooked spaces could become the home of outdoor cafes, specialty markets, or bars. With little money spent on a structure, such spaces could become creative options for unique local mom & pop establishments that otherwise could not afford to do business in the core.