Visual Art Commentaries

Redevelopment in Rosemary
VIRGINIA HOFFMAN, SRQDaily November 10,2011

Observing the Sarasota City Commission retreat this week was encouraging. In this format they work well together. If you didn’t know better, you might even think they actually like each other. The conversational format included input from department heads and sounded constructive, making me wish for more meetings of this sort. A new/old item was of special interest. The city own lots in the Rosemary District (previously known as Overtown) on Sixth Street between Central Avenue and Lemon Avenue. Rosemary is special for me. My first art studio was located at 510 Central Avenue, home of Derek’s Restaurant, and Commissioner Willie Shaw was then my mailman. This was 1981 and I was sure that in my $150/month spot in this neighborhood was destined to be a happening place. The city lots in the Rosemary District have a hot button history. First, the city designated it for Section Eight housing, forcing the eviction of a community garden. Then an unsolicited proposal from the HuB asked for the land for a dollar to turn it into a performance park. There was pushback from neighboring landowners so the city decided to sell the land. Arrggg! Unsolicited proposals are a pet peeve that makes me wish for a policy of best practices. Putting the land up for sale was a reactionary decision, not a strategic one. But that might be getting fixed now, as the city soon will call a meeting for Rosemary property owners to discuss future use for this land. My vote is to make this parcel a template of renewal development that could be duplicated in other areas in the city. The formula is simple. Successful cities across the country use it. They offer great incentives for developers to create fantastic and affordable live/work environments. If the city wants the college set to stick around as they do in cities like Austin, Texas, the transition from student to career professional must be made attractive by giving them incentives. That means affordable places to live and work in walkable neighborhoods with the amenities people want and need. Subsidized live/work for artists, musician, actors and beyond are an important component. Creative people are the backbone of the cultural community. Where artists hang their hats, all sorts of economic development follows. This project should be the first assignment of that new Economic Development Coordinator. Don’t forget, ART MEANS BUSINESS.