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Forum on Rosemary Park Proposal Gets Contentious

HuB Sarasota’s attempt to create a Park in the Rosemary District draws ire from area property owners.

“This is a self-serving idea created by the owners of the HuB and their online groupies.”

“Bottom line is they’re trying to scare you. They’re making up lies!”

“It’s going to become a crack-den, there’s no doubt about it!”

“Wait a second, he doesn’t get to talk!”

These were the kind of words tossed around on Tuesday evening, when residents of the Rosemary District gathered in the fire station on 4th street to discuss HuB Sarasota’s recent proposal to create a community park in the Rosemary district.

The entrepreneurial group – best known for the and thisweekinsarasota.com – began their campaign to transform the vacant lot located on Central and 6th Avenue into a park in February, launching the website rosemarypark.com and going before the city commissioners to propose the idea.

Citing declining property values, a sense of malaise and figures from the American Planning Association, co-founder of the HuB, Rich Swier Jr., argued that a park will help revitalize the area by bringing in traffic and removing an eyesore. One innovative idea being discussed, he said, is having the park be privately owned and maintained, with the land being leased from the city.

Several property owners have objected to the proposal, prompting the Rosemary District Association to hold an unofficial meeting to discuss the matter. A crowd of more than 30 packed into the small room, with people being forced to stand in the hall just to hear the going-ons.

Rosemary District Association President Lori Frary called the gathering a forum, but it quickly turned into a heated argument. Leading the opposition were Pam and Marcus Anise, owners of the. They contended that the park would attract “the wrong kind of clientele,” and create maintenance, security, insurance and parking issues.

Things got heated at several points, as each side interrupted each other to challenge their points.

Sarasota police officer Joseph Snodgrass acknowledged that the police were stretched thin, often assigning the area to a single officer.

As the one-hour meeting came to a close, with the two sides more distant than ever, Swier concluded, “I’m not saying there aren’t serious concerns; I’m just saying they’re not unaccomplishable. The idea is, we all sit together and prepare that plan.”

He invited attendees to send him feedback at rosemarypark.com and suggested a meeting on the matter is forthcoming. The plan will eventually be presented to the city commissioners.

Rich Swier Jr. March 10, 2011 at 12:46 PM
Virgnia... unfortunately your statements once again are completely inaccurate. The first people I met with on Feb 1st was the Rosemary District Association Board Members. I asked them their thoughts on the project, and told them I was going to the City to see if the property could be used for this purpose. Unfortunately, this project is unique and has no real model to base it on. I hope many others submit proposals for the lot.... quite honestly, I would be happy with anything but what is there now. I am simply offering a suggestion that does not cost the taxpayers money, and it something I feel would be utilized. I also agree with you, and hope they work on a master plan. The last one they did was 2002. I am tired of waiting for action, and I invite anyone else to take action with or without me to make the district better. (P.S. I enjoy our weekly battles, but PLEASE make sure you know the facts :)
Jeffrey Lambrix March 10, 2011 at 07:42 PM
In 1982,long before the Hub or Sarasota Collection, I started and maintianied a business basically adjacent to the lot you all are speaking of for about 15 years. The area was a 'challenge' then as it is today. I think in the late Eighties the City of Sarasota purchased the lot to start some neighborhood revitalizion....a community garden until some more government housing could be built. Tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent... that idea worked out well didn't it? It was a crack alley before the garden and a crack alley after the garden....it sounds like it still may be. Fast forward 25 years,the obstacle remains the same now as it did then for any entrepreneurial development....As I read all your posts no one addresses the whole situation in the neighborhood.....until the government subsidized housing project across the street is moved or eliminated, the neighborhood will remain the same. Here is a perfect example of a government entity/housing influencing market values of an entire neighborhood. If one were to have let the free market and private enterprise take over, the area would have blossomed years ago. A park in the area would be a very nice place to go, however the OBSTACLE remains the same and until that changes the neighborhood won't. Move the project and both sides could agree Im sure. PS. The city moved the garden....including the dirt.
Rich Swier Jr. March 10, 2011 at 07:48 PM
Jeffrey... good points all around. Park or no park - it would be nice to have some plan for revitalizing the neighborhood. I simply want to see an abandoned piece of property have life again.... I think its being made more complex than it has to be. The only sentence in your comment they you may find surprising is that I am a free market entrepreneur trying to help revitalize a neighborhood - and its not the public sector fighting progress - it is many people from the private sector who don't want the park. Right or Wrong, perhaps Rosemary is not just crippled due to the decisions made on housing, but also to the inability and lack of interest of the private sector to invest and change it.
Jeffrey Lambrix March 10, 2011 at 07:52 PM
As usual, the goverment is in the way of the market!
Barbara Powell Harris March 10, 2011 at 09:37 PM
Jeffery, the city did not move the dirt from the garden and the housing across the street is now privately owned condos. Some were government subsidized and some were not. The re-development of the Housing Authority property was a private endeavor. I was a founding member of the Rosemary Community Garden which was on property the city purchased with redevelopment funds that provided for the purchase of property but nothing for the redevelopment. When we began gardening on the site, the alley was indeed a "crack alley" as was all of Rosemary. A record Sunday afternoon in the early days resulted in the observation of 20 drug deals and 5 prostitution pick ups per hour. We called the police, we hauled the "crack camps" out of the alley, and most importantly, we supported the local businesses that openned in the area. We invited our friends to visit the garden, share our produce, and patronize the establishments in our neighborhood. We worked with the neighborhood activists to make Rosemary a place where people enjoyed visiting. We became friends with all of the early investors and watched them struggle with their private efforts at redevelopment, but they perservered. Some watched their investments decrease in value and building costs rise while jumping through all of the hoops. I really believe that the best use for the property is to market it for mixed use that will hopefully result in a development similar to Citrus Square, but more affordable.
virginia hoffman March 10, 2011 at 10:33 PM
I too had my art studio at 510 Central Ave. in Rosemary but then it was called Overtown. I remember Lambix, my good buddies who would deliver my goods to all of my clients on Longboat Key. This was in the early 80's. You were good neighbors. I was very upset when the community garden was moved from that lot. Never understood why the garden could not remain until what ever was scheduled for that property was shovel ready. It would be so wonderful to have that community garden back. This is something that really brings a community together.
Jim Saporito March 11, 2011 at 02:29 AM
To Rich Swier, How dare you say others are negative for no good reason when you, yourself wrote this very negative article a few weeks ago...veiled as sarcasm and using passive-aggressive style, which as most of us know is a way to speak your true feelings as well...If it ain't broke don't fix it... http://thisweekinsarasota.com/content_content_detail.cfm?ContentID=112 This article made the Rosemary District look like the opening scenes of "The Last Picture Show". Here are some major players in the Rosemary District that have happened in the last ten years... Renaissance, Alinari, Hotel Indigo, Citrus Square, Mad Crow Brewery, the new Firehouse, The Naked Florist, Frary Gallery, Kathleen Bernhardt Gallery, Planned Parenthood and madeby gallery, Lourdes Salon, The Studio Salon, Derek's, Pomona, Michael Urban Salon, Home Resource, SSA&S, (addition) Many new condos, architects and photography studios... and on and on... I'm sure those investors, residents and business people enjoy your humor and satire...after having made tens of millions of dollars worth of investments in this derelict "Fort Apache the Bronx" area of downtown Sarasota. Even the Venue location has been rented. You need to look farther than out your front door and see things are happening and they're positive!
Tim Sukits March 11, 2011 at 11:07 AM
Jim, I don't know how often you walk through the Rosemary District. But I have everyday for the past 2 years, and in that time the area's "progress" has amounted to a handful of storefronts with a revolving line-up of owners. Most of the places you mention came in before the economy went sour, and barely anything has been done since. All of the vacant buildings with boarded up windows and empty unkept lots with ugly fences look exactly the same as when I arrived. So, the question is how do we make the neighborhood attractive enough for shoppers downtown to merit the walk north to provide visible food traffic that will attract investors and new potential businesses? Because I haven't seen any foot traffic, nor interest in developing any of the lifeless properties at prime locations throughout the Rosemary District since I've been here. Rosemary Park is an attempt to draw foot traffic without having to depend on a developer or the city to make it happen. It will be a multi-purpose community park, run and maintained by and for the community. It will cost pretty much whatever a new fence and some fresh sod will run us, and the maintenance costs will come from a portion of the tickets sold for various events held at the park. This is really the simplest, cheapest, most effective idea to bring business to the Rosemary possible, and it has been greeted with all-out warfare. But nobody on the opposing side seems to have any other ideas for how to get people to a place nobody goes.
Don Guy March 11, 2011 at 12:02 PM
Kimberly, now that you have thrown your lot in with the Hub, your statement just reflects the same issue you accuse the others as having, just another biased lopsided point of view. The fact is Rich Swier Jr. who has obviously brain washed you, lacks tack, and once again a good idea was lost by his hastily put forward bullying. A bull in a china shop will push a Tsunami of destruction ahead of itself, and the seed of a good idea will be lost in the flotsam and jetsam, and never incubate.
Don Guy March 11, 2011 at 12:05 PM
Ah yes Virginia, once again it is refreshing to read your comments, squeezed into all this riff raff. You are some how always the lighthouse of clear light, lets hear it for Roberts Rules of Order!
Jim Saporito March 11, 2011 at 01:13 PM
Tim, The era of "foot traffic" is over and has been for a long to time. People are simply not going to walk from Main Street to Central Av. for any reason. For the last two years, we have been in a recession and some say a depression and still are. That is why not much is happening with new development and nothing to do with the Rosemary District. There are empty buildings all over the city and in some areas, just as concentrated. This area of downtown has been a focus for interest for over a decade. The few buildings at the core will sit just the way they are until the current owners or new ones decide to invest in the area. You and the Hub and friends think that people are against a park and they are not. Why would anyone be against a park? It is that location that is problematic. If you think a park would bring people to the area, why does no one go to Payne or Gillespie? I think also the fact that they want to have events there has not been talked about much. What kind of events? When? How often?
Rich Swier Jr. March 11, 2011 at 01:28 PM
Jim Thanks for comments... I would love to talk with you and get your thoughts.... My sarcastic letter was meant to be just that... If I didn't believe Rosemary could be better I wouldn't locate my businesses there.... I hope at some point we can have a conversation about the future of the district...
Jim Saporito March 11, 2011 at 01:39 PM
Rich, You have done more to create diviseness in such a short time than you have been positive by a long shot. What is there to discuss? People are very much more educated about what it takes to create economic development than you are. If that is truly your aim, what have you done to create a positive thing in the Rosemary District since you've been there? Name one thing. One thing you were part of was I Love Downtown campaign. Never once mentioned the Rosemary District or this property...You never once said anything about this property for two years. Why now? What about the ugly empty Ice house building? That may sit that way for another ten years...nice view from the creative park...
Rich Swier Jr. March 11, 2011 at 01:43 PM
Jim, I don't want to fight. Its my opinion that you don't know me, and I have invited you to get to know me if you want.... otherwise, I respect your opinion and wish you the best. r
Jim Saporito March 11, 2011 at 02:02 PM
Rich, I was simply calling out a few facts. I have no interest in fighting with you or anyone else. I know who you are by what your actions have been and by what you write and say online. There is nothing to say face to face that can't be said right here.
Tara Tomlinson-Photography March 11, 2011 at 02:12 PM
I'm personally kind of glad that Rosemary doesn't look like the rest of downtown. Sure, some of the properties aren't pristine, manicured and sterile looking...which is kind of nice. Most people (especially tourists) who are out strolling, having a nice afternoon of shopping and eating, are simply not going to make the extra effort to actually CROSS Frruitville Road on foot to walk over to Rosemary. I am not against the park, but I do wonder if in reality it won't end up mostly serving as an event/meeting up area for the same (wonderful) people that already frequent Rosemary - mostly the young, artistsic crowd (not those who necessarily spend a lot of money). Not that that is a bad thing - it would be great! Just not maybe what people are hoping for...although I do see where some special events may bring people there wouldn't normally come to Rosemary - thereby bringing new awareness. I just wish that people wouldn't base their written opinions of Rosemary on whether or not this park is created. Let's improve Rosemary, but let's not put out a bunch of information that is going to actually scare people away who may otherwise have at least given it a chance.
Tara Tomlinson-Photography March 11, 2011 at 02:16 PM
I'm just throwing this out there as an idea.....is it possible that maybe at some point we should just accept Rosemary for what it is - and what I mean by that is - accept that it can thrive as an area that's businesses are more appointment based or specifically sought out, not retail/foot traffic based. Places like architectural firms, art galleries, photography studios, design firms, etc. I know that several businesses who have both appointment/specialty clientele bases have reduced or eliminated the retail portion of their businesses. Maybe focusing on where Rosemary CAN succeed instead of trying to force it to be something it may not ever be able to be isn't such a bad thing.... Again...those are just some thoughts, maybe somethng to think about....
Tim Sukits March 11, 2011 at 02:28 PM
Jim, I'm glad you bring up these points. The reason people don't go to Payne and Gillespie is because they are not events-oriented facilities. The whole goal of this park is to provide an outdoor venue where citizens, community groups, businesses and organizations can reserve space to hold art, music, dance, theater, science, athletic, social and spiritual events at different times throughout the day. People may pay fees to reserve certain times and spaces at the park, it may be open to the public at times, it may be nighttime concerts or benefits where tickets are charged at the gate — all these things will have to be worked out, but it will be paid for and maintained through it's constant use. The goal is to have organized creative activity as often as possible. Foot traffic is only one method of transport. The point is to make Rosemary a place where people gather to create and celebrate Sarasota's unique culture and artistic excellence. We picture Rosemary Yoga Court and New Balance holding fitness and wellness classes every morning, SSA+S using it for science experiments and kickball, FST and Players putting on outdoor productions, huge national music acts and local musicians collaborating to produce amazing concerts, S/ART/Q and our many local galleries displaying grand exhibitions with live art happening everywhere you look, the Opera, the Orchestra, the Aquarium — the possibilities are endless! It's frustrating that the dialogue has yet to progress past this stage.
Jim Saporito March 11, 2011 at 02:30 PM
Tara, Very well said. Rosemary is different than downtown and the type of people, businesses and visitors is different too. The businesses you mentioned are more upscale and draw there own traffic. There seems to be a natural evolution going on and I see that as positive. Some things can't and maybe shouldn't be forced to happen a certain way. You can end up making it more like downtown or St. Armands and that would not make it unique. I heard some people talking after the meeting the other night about starting an economic development plan for the RD. I think they may finally have enough people interested. You should contact them about being on that committee. Good luck with your new business.
joan mckniff March 11, 2011 at 02:31 PM
Tara, I agree and have lots of ideas from point of view of person who doesn't live/work there but am, I think, one of the kinds of people biz there would like to attract. But I don't have enough energy/kick me signs to write them up, only be dismissed, patronized or attacked because my ideas/tribe aren't theirs.
Jim Saporito March 11, 2011 at 02:44 PM
Tim, Wow, who is a member of your group with this awe inspiring plan that has the experience to develop and manage such a facility? This sounds like a huge plan. Why didn't this come out until now? This is a pretty small parcel of land for all of that to happen and be coordinated and managed...and very costly. There are already venues in the city for this kind of activity to happen...and yes they are outdoors. You do realize people live right next to this property? I can see why at the very least they are against this idea. Do they know the bigger picture? I know I wouldn't want all that going on outside my door or in my backyard. I thought this was a passive use idea...for the creative people to use...and the neighbors. Now I see there is a much more developed plan for much more impact...hmmm, interesting.
Rich Swier Jr. March 11, 2011 at 02:49 PM
Jim Do you live or work in Rosemary? If so, I would love to come by and chat rich
Tara Tomlinson-Photography March 11, 2011 at 02:49 PM
I think this controversy has brought to light some things that everyone in the situation could learn from and work on. There seems to be a divide between certain groups/types of people - I would love to see people use this as an opprtunity to attempt to breach the gap and all work together as a team. Each person can ask themselves, "what am I doing or not doing to cause people to mistrust me or feel that their opinions don't matter to me/us"? Tim, I enjoyed reading your input and if things work out the way you envision them, it would be a wonderful thing!
Jim Saporito March 11, 2011 at 03:03 PM
Rich, I am an interested outsider. I have many friends in the RD and am ever watchful of the area. I visit often, talk with business friends, and I enjoy the diversity. Just consider me as someone who is a friend of the district and have no priviledge of ownership. I do know that there are strong people in the community that think your efforts regarding the park are self-serving. Unfortunately for you, it's up to you to prove them wrong...and they are not interested in fighting either. If you think you have the support of the city, go for it. What have you got to lose?
Rich Swier Jr. March 11, 2011 at 03:10 PM
Jim Thanks for the feedback... and thanks for having passion for the district... its exciting to me that there are people who love the neighborhood like I do.... next time your in the district, please stop by the HuB... would love to hear your thoughts.... Just for the record, the park is not a self-serving project. I am not an event promoter, not do I make any money throwing parties. If anything I lose money doing things like s/ART/q art shows, Vinyl Music Festival, Noise Ordinance Preview, Photo Shows for upcoming Ringling artists, Fashion Shows for local charities, Fundraisers for the Winefest, Music Events during Rosemary Rising..... these make me no money. I have enough property at the HuB to throw parties and events, I don't need the park to do that.... my intention is to have an open forum where the neighborhood contributes ideas on what the park can be.... if anything it will cost money to do this, not make money.... so the idea of "self-serving" is I believe an invalid point. However, I do like your passion... and don't want that to die... we need passion in Rosemary!
Tim Sukits March 11, 2011 at 03:34 PM
Jim, we are the young people in this community that put on creative events like Vinyl Music Festival and Noise Ordinance and S/ART/Q exhibitions and Zig Zag Zine expos with Ringling students and many other events that unite our community and bring thousands of visitors to town. We are trying to tell all the smarter, well-established people, who apparently view our business as some kind of playground where we make Monopoly money and know all the logistical and financial difficulties involved with a project that's never been attempted, that we would like to have a place in the Rosemary to hold outdoor events. Since making our request public, we have been insulted, belittled, and altogether dismissed as incompetent children who couldn't possibly manage the creation of an open field run by a committee made up of community members - none of which will be the HuB. In fact, the HuB stands to make no money from this park and has instead pledged $2,500 toward it's creation. It is very disheartening as productive and hard-working members of Sarasota's emerging young creative community to be accused by fellow Sarasotans of plotting some grand scheme for our own gain. We do a lot for Sarasota, and we haven't been given, nor have we asked for, much in return. We want the Rosemary District to become "the Soho of Sarasota," as it's been described for years. We want it to be the epicenter of our young contemporary creatives - Ringling grads, indie bands, tech, bio and artistic entrepreneurs.
Rhona Post March 11, 2011 at 04:01 PM
Tim: Both my partner Walt and myself were present at the Rosemary Court forum this past week. We came to talk about radio, getting the word out about the uniqueness of Rosemary Court, and how business owners might use radio efforts of people to encourage people to cross the line from Fruitville. I was glad to be an observer of such an interesting event; so much so, I will talk about what we observed on my radio show, Anything Goes with Rhona & Company, Saturday night, starting at 9:40 pm. I did pose some questions that were answered. I have many more to ask. I do no think a pro and con forum is the best venue to discuss possibilities. Walt said it well when we left--"there was not much of a community approach/experience". A community means a place where our gifts are received. Under the civil forum set up, it is challenging if not impossible to communicate from a community orientation. Having coached lots of businesses to improve internal and finally external communications, I have many good ideas about how to move this effort along. We'll be talking again, I am sure.
virginia hoffman March 12, 2011 at 01:54 PM
Barbara your onto something here, now that we have a new commission there is hope for this. Citrus Square is a very successful project.
virginia hoffman March 12, 2011 at 02:06 PM
Fact is you do not have buy in from the stakeholders comments on this forum show this. Try new strategy Rich, I know you can be charming when you want to. Rosemary is doing very well in spite of the economic downturn and it would do better if the stakeholders worked together. You sidestepped the stakeholders by putting this on the commission table without the Rosemary association endorsement of a plan. This is why your experiencing the typical push back that always occurs when applicants try to side step neighborhoods & associations. The city has a process that includes public and stakeholder input they are required to do so, I suggest you get with the program.
D.W.White June 01, 2011 at 10:30 PM
Excuse me....but I would love to see a DOG park in the area....

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