More talk from City Commission candidates on Sarasota job loss

Suzanne Atwell

Feb. 23, 2009

For some reason, the unemployment rate hasn’t lowered at all since our coverage of Sarasota’s job crisis two weeks ago. We figured maybe if we introduced you to a few more City Commission candidates and their positions you might have a better idea of how we can fix this mess. From attracting corporations and car companies to constructing roadways and rail lines, we’ve heard a number of ideas on how to bring jobs into the city, but which ones will work?

Jay Berman, a Sarasota born and raised financial advisor, believes, “We need to think locally, buy locally and try to work locally.” Berman thinks the city should start marketing downtown to college students on the north Trail to try and infuse money into the business district. He says some instant ways to do this would be for bars to offer college nights and empty storefronts could be used for student art exhibits. He believes if Ringling and New College students learn to love the city, they will want to stay here and start up businesses.

Berman believes the city is not likely to ever lure huge manufacturing companies to town, but, “If you added a 20- to 25-year-old demographic you could expand, especially in the eyes of the young people, with a bunch of small companies with small crews.” He also agrees with projects like the newly approved Palm Avenue parking garage and the proposal for roundabouts. But, “The budget is going to need to be addressed. Everybody is going to have to tighten their belts and be smart looking forward with everything we do.”

Suzanne Atwell, a mental health counselor, ran for a City Commission post four years ago and received 32 percent of the vote. She believes the issues then were dramatically different, and that differences among candidates were much more glaring. Now everything is about the economy, and she believes the whole community is floating in the same boat. “Geography is not destiny in this town anymore; because of this economy we are all lying in the weeds,” the Bird Key resident, pictured above, says. “I think we have to adapt to this economy, we need to rally businesses. These economic circumstances have delivered equal-opportunity circumstances, weather you live east or west up the Trail.”

Atwell believes the city needs to retain jobs as well as create them. She is skeptical that the new parking garage will create jobs and was much more in favor of a mixed-use project like a conference center. She wants to look at private partnerships for things like the Van Wezel, and believes the city needs to attract baby boomers with money as well as young families who love the sun. “I think we need more civility and we need more confidence in our city government. To me, the task of a good commissioner is to arm herself or himself with the best and the brightest of the community. We are tasked with creating policy, not micromanaging.”

Robin Harrington, a licensed real estate broker, feels the direction of the city needs to be refocused on the entire community instead of only the downtown core. “We need to stop seeing Sarasota as the new thing in Florida and get back to it being the best thing in Florida,” says Harrington. He wants to strengthen and stabilize the local economy and is more concerned about local merchants who live here rather than attracting chains and large corporations. He wants to focus on quality growth over quantity and feels too many tax breaks and bonuses are given to developers.

“We are a four month community,” he says. “After April the tourists are gone, and we need to start branding Sarasota as a family-friendly, budget-friendly community.” Harrington believes working to bring in off-season local tourism is a much faster way to grow the economy than trying to attract companies to move here. “People want green jobs, tech jobs, corporate jobs (Boars Head just moved to Sarasota), but that takes time, we have to work with what we have to make short-term growth.”

Despite our best efforts, we haven’t yet connected with the ninth City Commission candidate, Ray McKinon. If we ever do, you’ll be the first to know about it.

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