Downtown Revitalization: Sarasota

November 2, 2012 2 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville takes a visit to the downtown of the second largest metropolitan area on Florida's Gulf Coast: Sarasota.

Tale of the Tape:

Sarasota City Population 2011: 52,341 (City); 709,355 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1913)

Jacksonville Pop. 2011: 827,908 (City); 1,360,251 (Metro-2011) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Sarasota (18,896)

City Land Area

Sarasota: 14.89 square miles
Jacksonville: 757.7 square miles

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2010-2011)

Sarasota: +1.01%
Jacksonville: +1.09%

Urban Area Population (2010 census)

Sarasota: 643,260 (ranked 64 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 1,065,219 (ranked 40 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2010 census)

Sarasota: 1,969.0 people per square mile
Jacksonville: 2,008.5 people per square mile

City Population Growth from 2000 to 2011

Sarasota: -374
Jacksonville: +92,405

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Sarasota: Sarasota Bradenton International Convention Center (2003) - 93,000 square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1985) - 78,500 square feet

Connected to or across the street from Convention Center:

Sarasota: Holiday Inn Sarasota-Bradenton Airport - 135 rooms
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

Sarasota: The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota - 261 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Fortune 500 companies 2009 (City limits only):

Sarasota: Zero (0)
Jacksonville: CSX (226), Winn-Dixie Stores (363), Fidelity National Information Services (425), Fidelity National Financial (472)

Urban infill obstacles:

Sarasota: Tamiami Trail and Washington Boulevard cut downtown off from the waterfront and parks.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.

Downtown Nightlife:

Sarasota: Main Street
Jacksonville: East Bay Street

Common Downtown Albatross:

Surface parking lots.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Sarasota: 87 out of 100, according to
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to

About Downtown Sarasota

Downtown Sarasota is a distinct area in itself. A compact setting that defines itself as the "core" of SRQ (Sarasota Metropolitan Area), Downtown is filled with mixed-use dwellings: business high-rises, parking garages, residential condominiums, street eateries, upscale restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and several art/cultural companies. Main street in the middle, with dressed streets branching off along it, Downtown sits adjacent to the waterfront of Sarasota Bay, its Keys, and the Gulf of Mexico in the distance.

In 1925 John Nolen, a professional planner, was hired to develop a plan for the downtown of the city. He laid out the streets to follow the arch of the bay front with a grid beyond, that extended north to what is now Tenth Street and south to Mound. This followed more closely the way the city was developing at the time.

The names and numbers of the downtown streets were changed to the current ones. At that time the numbered streets began at Burns Square and Burns' triangular building separating the intersection of Orange and Pineapple Avenues, was on First Street. Nolen shifted the existing numbered streets to the north, beginning above what now is Main Street. The city hall, situated in the Hover Arcade at the foot of Main Street, was on the waterfront and the city dock extended from it. It was the hub of the new city. Vehicles and materials could pass through the arcade and railroad tracks led directly to the terminus.

The new plan accentuated that city hall on the bay front, was the nexus of the city. Broadway, the road that connected the downtown bay front with the northern parts of the city along the bay had become part of the new Tamiami Trail that was being created. The trail was a portion of U.S. 41 that connected Tampa to Miami (hence the contracted name) in 1928. United with U.S. 301 in northern Manatee County, the trail made a "dog's leg" turn toward the west at Cortez Road. In Sarasota it turned back toward the east to follow Main Street through downtown before rejoining U.S. 301 at Washington Boulevard.

This plan was abandoned in the 1960s when pressure to increase speeds on Tamiami Trail drove the demolition of the city hall and the redirection of the route past the bay front, severing the community from the waterfront. By the last decade of the century, automobile traffic had become so dominant that intersections beyond human-scale barred all but the most adventurous from attempting crossings on foot. At community planning charrettes, designs began to circulate that called for the reunification of the downtown to the bay front and removal of the designation of the bay front road as a highway. New Urbanism concepts focused upon restoring Sarasota to being a walkable community and taking the greatest advantage of its most beautiful asset, Sarasota Bay. Roundabouts were discussed as traffic calming devices that could be integrated into gracious designs for safe and efficient movement of automobiles among increased use by bicyclists and pedestrians, along with reduction of pollution.,_Florida

The John Ringling Causeway (State Road 789) connects downtown Sarasota with the area's Gulf Coast beaches.

The Sarasota Bayfront is a 32-acre park and marina situated on the shore of Sarasota Bay.

Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41) divides Bayfront Park from the historic heart of downtown Sarasota.

The Ringling College of Art & Design is working to renovate the old Sarasota High School campus on Tamiami Trail, to open its 'Sarasota Museum of Art.' It will be the city's first museum of modern and contemporary art and function as "a vital part of Sarasota's rich cultural legacy, interweaving exhibitions, educational programs, and community outreach initiatives to engage a diverse audience." They are halfway to their $22-million fund goal.

Downtown Sarasota's newest grocery store is a 49,700-square foot two story structure on Tamiami Trail.  The $8.1 million store features parking on the ground level and retail space above.

Payne Park was the site of the city's Spring Training ballpark from 1924 through 1988.  It was demolished in November 1990.  In 2007, the City of Sarasota reopened the former ballpark site as Payne Park.  The 29-acre public space was built at a cost of $8.8 million, funded by a county-wide penny surtax.

Payne Park with the Sarasota County Courthouse complex in the background.

In 1928, this building was a luxury hotel known as the Sarasota Terrace Hotel, with daily rates ranging from $3 to $8 a room.  During the 1960s, it was the winter home of the Chicago White Sox, while players were in town for Spring Training.  The hotel closed in 1972 but instead of being demolished, it was retrofitted into Sarasota County's administration center.

Who says you can't make a drive through fast food restaurant pedestrian friendly?

Sarasota Police Department Headquarters building was completed in September 2010.  The $50 million structure was funded after residents approved a bond for its construction in 2006.

The six-story Palm Avenue public parking garage opened in December 2011.

The $9.6-million, six-story, 743-space, 287,040-sq-ft Palm Avenue Parking Garage includes 11,200 sq ft of first-floor retail space and features a solar carport, electric-car charging stations, a high first floor for maximum daylighting and rainwater harvesting. Furthermore, an underground retention vault and cistern store and treat stormwater runoff. The project is seeking LEED-Gold certification.

To attain a signature look for the city project, the architect delivered three alternative designs for the original concept within a three-week period and then sought public input.

In March 2012, the Sarasota City Commission has voted 3 - 2 to cancel the parking meter program in downtown Sarasota, FL. In addition to removing the meters in downtown Sarasota, parking in the new Palm Ave. parking garage will also be free. Instead of fare collecting parking meters, signs indicating two hour time limits on parking will be installed.

Fruitville Road connects downtown Sarasota with Interstate 75.

The $55-million One Hundred Central/Whole Foods Market Centre project encompasses the entire city block between 1st and 2nd streets and Central and Lemon avenues. One Hundred Central is 11 story, 95 condominium unit tower with 60,000 square feet of retail space, which includes a 36,000 square foot Whole Foods Market.  The development was completed in 2005.

The Sarasota County Area Transit's (SCAT) downtown bus terminal.

Downtown Sarasota Historic District

Main Street is the historic major commercial thoroughfare of downtown Sarasota.  A collection of commercial buildings constructed between (circa) 1909 and 1959, the corridor was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 2009.  Today, several buildings have been restored into a mix of uses and Main Street has been designed for slow moving vehicular traffic, making it a multimodal friendly corridor.

Sarasota Main Plaza: In 1956, Tampa-based Maas Brothers department store expanded with a location in downtown Sarasota. In 1985, the Sarasota Main Plaza, a 259,000 square foot, two story mall was added to the west of the department store. In 1991, the Maas Brothers closed as the chain shuttered all of their remaining downtown stores in favor of locations in suburban malls.  In 1996, the department store was torn down and replaced with a 20 screen theatre (Regal Hollywood 20).

Dominating the background, the $75-million Plaza at Five Points is a 16-story high-rise with 50 condominium units, 14,456 square feet of retail space and 87,000 square feet of Class A office space. The residential units are located on the building’s top seven floors with retail, commercial and parking space reserved for the bottom nine floors.

This image was taken from Five Points Park. Five Points Park was designed to be the central public space for downtown Sarasota. Since 2010, the park has been the home of the annual Harvey Milk Festival (HMF). HMF is a free music, art, and film event featuring emerging national and international talent.  Since 2010, the HMF has more than doubled, with 4,500 in attendance in early 2012. Due to its success, some residents living in new downtown condominiums have started to lobby the city commission to ban events in the park.

The Sarasota Opera House opened in 1926 as the Edwards Theatre.  Closed as a theatre in 1973, the building reopened as the Sarasota Opera House in 1984.

The Sarasota Herald Tribune's office building on Main Street.

Article by Ennis Davis