Sarasota commissioners vote down gallery project

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SARASOTA--Monday night the city commission voted against allowing a restaurant owner to build a gallery outside the former home of Floribbean, a building near Five Points Park.

"The look of the building just doesn't belong downtown," said resident Fae Beelhoff, who opposed the structure.

 "I think it would benefit the city to develop that property into a two-story gallery," said Maryellen Kirkwood, who favored the project.

The proposed gallery would have been like the kind seen commonly in New Orleans. However the issue at hand wasn't about the actual structure, but whether the city would allow the structure to encroach on the public right of way.

"In order to do that, the city commission to approve it, they would have to show that there is a public benefit for that major encroachment," said Sarasota city spokeswoman Jan Thornburg.

The project's architect explained the benefits of such a gallery, and how it would give the area a more cosmopolitan feel.

"You typically wouldn't have them in downtowns that were strictly business, yet places where people like to enjoy themsevles and be outdoors and so that's the kind of communities you'll find them in," said architect Chris Gallagher, who was hired by the building's owner.

Yet after almost two hours of debate, with more than twenty people speaking for and against the project, commissioners voted down the proposal, saying they failed to see a public benefit that justified a private business encroching on a public sidewalk.