[SRQ TALK] Residents Join Businesses to Support Palm Avenue .

The fate of the Palm Avenue mixed use project slated to bring much demanded public parking and economic activity to Downtown Sarasota will be decided upon this Friday by a City Commission vote. Presentations made by the developer, The Leiter Group and the John Buck Company, and by City staff combined with brief, albeit passionate public comments at last night’s Special City Commission Meeting. Since the Commission last reviewed the project in 2007, the developers have worked with City staff and Goetsch Architects to address initial concerns from the Commissioners that the architecture was not “exemplary” enough.
Providing a proposed 550 public parking spaces, a Starwood Aloft Hotel, retail along Palm and Cocoanut Avenues and eventually a residential project, the developers presented the conceptual design and feasibility studies of the project last night.
Residents of Bay Plaza, located across the street from the proposed project, gathered 50-plus signatures from their residents in support of the Palm Avenue project, citing the need for continued vibrant downtown projects and the project’s “hip, urban”, contemporary architectural aesthetic as desirables.
Many residents put their evening’s plans on hold in order for a chance to speak before the commission in a show of support and to convey the importance of what this project would mean for the city. Downtown Sarasota Condominium Association President John Moran stated he was “hot for the project”, during his time to speak.
Ernie Ritz met with Sarasota Convention and Visitor Bureau’s Virginia Haley to compile figures that would demonstrate the economic impact of the hotel saying that the downtown could expect an annual $3 million in tourist dollars from visitors staying at the Starwood Aloft hotel alone.The last remaining challenge for the project will be one of architecture. While most agreed on the positive economic impact, some still disagreed on the level of satisfaction in the architecture of the hotel potion of the project, in particular the facade treatment.
The Commission will need to decide whether the need for the project outweighs its perceived lack of perfection in the design. While the functionality required in the City’s original RFP seems to be realized, some believe they would like to see further development of form. Difficult to resolve, the Commissioners will need to decide whether unanimously-accepted aesthetic is more important than the substance of the project. As of the meeting, the City staff have recommended acceptance of the project as has the City Planning Board. The Commission will reconvene this Friday to finalize their decision to realize the potential for this public, private partnership.