Downtown Sarasota is stuck between some rock 'n' roll and a hard place.
"You go downtown now at eleven o'clock now, and it looks like a retirement village," musician Steve McAllister said. "… We don't want to go to bed at ten o'clock."
Those in attendance during a hearing Wednesday Night inside the City Hall Annex felt that the city's sound ordinance needs to embrace a thriving a downtown music scene with reasonable expectations and not to become the Elmore City, Oklahoma, of live music.
The crowd, predominately a younger faced audience for Sarasota standards in their twenties and forties, spoke for more than two hours at the workshop and the consensus from the crowd who favored altering the ordinance included:
- Have a sound ordinance that supports live music on the weekends in certain geographic locations
- Eliminate anonymous complaints
- Measure the sound from the location of the complaint and not from the source
- Increase the decibel limit
- Increase hours of live music allowed on Friday and Saturday nights
Commissioner Paul Caragiulo, who conducted the hearing, said he is committed to staying on the issue and being in contact with those who spoke at the hearing.
"I'm going to take all of these things, calling some of you individually, and the thing to do is to take it through an organization like the [Downtown Sarasota Alliance] and work with the condo association," he said. "I don't have an idea in my head of what they would look like."
The city's downtown core sound ordinance regulates outdoor amplified sound (i.e. music) by banning it between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. on weekdays and between 11:59 p.m. and 7 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday nights and nights before a federal holiday. Mattison's City Grille, which leases space on a city-owned property on Lemon Avenue, is exempted.
When the band plays, The city's downtown core sound ordinance regulates outdoor amplified sound (i.e. music) by banning it between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. and between 11:59 p.m. and 7 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday nights and nights before a federal holiday.
When the band plays, it has to be lower than 65 dBA, 70 dBC, and then it gets complicated when it deals with duration, proximity to residences and other measures.
Caragiulo demonstrated how loud that is by playing a clip of music that appears on the city's television programs, with folks agreeing that it sounded like watching a TV program and not attending a concert at your local watering hole.
Those at the hearing shared that what's not fair is the sound meter is measured at the source of the sound and not from where the complaint originated. Complaints are anonymous for now, and one business owner suspected that competing bars and clubs are calling in complaints.
In a city of 52,341 permanent residents, there were only 262 noise complaints citywide and 29 citations in 2011. Or for the downtown zone, 20 complaints and 2 citations in 2011. However, those are for any type of noise complaint, which could include loud arguments between your neighbors. Data of separating the music-specific complaints were not available.
So far in 2012, no citations have been issued for noise, no complaints have been lodged downtown either while citywide, 155 complaints were filed, according to the Sarasota Police Department.
Floribbean Restaurant and Lounge owner Rafael Perez questioned the accuracy of the noise complaint citations in 2012 provided from SPD.
He said he has been cited four times this year, one case was dismissed, he said, another he served 12 hours of community service at the Salvation Army for the violation.
Captain Waye Genthner had data from SPD that showed five sound complaints from January through July this year, with four complaints on the 1400 block of Main Street, which would be the address of Floribbean.
Genthner, who runs Wolfmouth Fishing Charters and is a member of Visit Sarasota County, said visitors aren't sure what there is to do at night in Sarasota.
"We love the fishing, we love what it looks like, we love the people, but what the hell are we going to do after nine o'clock at night?," Genthner says his clients express. "… I have to give them a really, really good fishing trip to make up for it."
Genthner had also broached the idea of having either codified entertainment zones in the city like Orlando with shorter hours or like in Raleigh where there are distinct districts that also have circulator buses to transport people from place to place during the late night every 20 minutes.
HuB business incubator founder Rich Swier Jr. keyed on the economic issue.
"This is about creating an economy that allows for a vibrant nightlife that draws younger professionals, diversifies our economy and also allows our businesses to survive, especially those that depend on the nightlife," he said.
Several who spoke were supportive of some form of a district that encourages live music and is less restrictive than the current regulations for the rest of the city, but Planning Board Chairman Mort Siegel offered some cautionary tales.
Siegal is an attorney who represents Hard Rock Cafe, performed regulatory work for Playboy clubs and numerous other restaurant and nightclub entities for residential/business conflicts. But he has also was active with the Savoy on Palm Condominium Association and helped form the Coalition of Bayfront Citizens condo association.
"If the folks who have testified here are advocating that every area in downtown Sarasota should be able to have nighttime entertainment with sound, you will never see it happen," Siegal said. "It has never happened anywhere in the United States.
Instead, Siegal said, the city needs to decide if it wants entertainment-specific areas with regulations would be a good concept, but it can't just lump the entire downtown.
"Loud sound is going to lose if it competes with people's way of living," he said.
Anthony Paull, an activist journalist with ThisWeekInSarasota, has continued to push for a conversation on the restrictive sound ordinance, said that downtown is dying with limited shopping and a downtown Starbucks that closes at 9 p.m.
"The only thing we see after 9 p.m. is street people, and after 9 p.m., it is not a 'safe city,'" he said. But if there were more music, there would be more people on the street creating a feeling of security in numbers in a bustling city, but not to turn up the dial so much that a Saturday night in Sarasota resembles a romp through Ybor City.
Peter Fanning of the Downtown Sarasota Condominium Association represents about 4,000 downtown residents and said that those residents do want a vibrant Main Street.
"We want youth to come downtown. We would like to see housing that accommodate youth downtown, but we also need to recognize that many people in our association bought in residential areas expecting it to be like residential areas," he said.
Fanning also added he is encouraged of the talk of compromise this time around.
"I think with compromise and good discussion … I think we can arrive at a compromise situation that ameliorates the sound problems that would go into the residential neighborhood area while we encourage the vibrancy that we see entertainment brings to the downtown of Sarasota," Fanning added.
Several speakers during the hearing said that if the condominiums are having so many issues with noise, it's probably a building issue where the architect or contractor didn't sufficiently provide sound dampening walls and windows for a downtown property.
Bryan Hadley, social media and outreach coordinator for Players Theatre, suggested that city should provide incentives or credits to downtown residences who install sound buffering into their design since businesses are encouraged to do the same.
Hadley added that ultimately, the folks moving in the core of a city had to have some realistic expectations of the sounds of city streets.
"They had a choice," he said. "They didn't have to move to downtown. They could have lived in Palmer Ranch or Lakewood Ranch."
What's your plan for allowing live music downtown? Tell us in the comments