Street Talk - January 2002

By staff January 1, 2002

Best Bite

There's new bread in town. Located out in the sticks at 6589 South Trail in the Pavilion shopping center, Panera Bakery is a new link in the Panera chain of bakery/cafes-and the bread is about as good as you're going to find in town right now-especially outside downtown.

A good "B-level" bread. The sourdough is the best and comes in a couple of varieties, but like everything else, it's made from frozen dough so while the crust is good, the inside is-well, "previously frozen for your protection."

Boy, do we ever need a good bread bakery in Sarasota--or at least for C'est La Vie to get serious about something more than its baguettes and Panificio its standard Italian.


"Change is the only constant," it's said, but in Sarasota, "transformation" better describes what's happening. The Ritz-Carlton is open, and we're all watching the progress on the new Ringling Bridge with anticipation and some fear, looking at all the chain-sawed cabbage palms and bulldozed Bird Key Park.

New Disneyesque street lights on St. Armands seem to sing "It's a small world"-they really are wired for sound-but their small scale fits just finw with the smaller-than-life John Ringling statue looking out over his resort empire. Actually, the bronze is almost life-size, but doesn't convey any of the man's dynamic personality.

As Ringling's grandniece Pat Buck put it, "The statue looks like a grandfather from Hans Christian Anderson. And although a lot of good people honestly tried-well, it's too bad."


Rob Patten surprised a lot of people-including himself, he says-when he recently became executive director of environmental services for Sarasota County, overseeing nearly 400 people.

You see, Patten was the very first manager of the county's Natural Resources Department, as it used to be called when it was formed back in 1984. Only a year later, the big bucks beckoned and the soft-spoken and bright Patten was flying all over the world as an environmental consultant.

After 16 years of that, 16 years of "being out of Sarasota 75 percent of the time," Rob says, he's come home to stay. In some ways, he never really left. Even while consulting, Patten managed to serve on the county's Planning Board, serving two years as chair. He's also chaired the county's Coastal Advisory Board.

"You can come home again," Patten says, "and finally, I do feel at home."


Orlando was a disaster area last fall after the New York City and Washington terrorist attacks. Nobody came, and that spells big, big trouble for Tourism Central.

But look at Main Street Sarasota and all you see are merchants with smiles. The truth is, the tourism slump never hit Sarasota. The county's tourism guru Virginia Haley says Sarasota's small size and isolation-and we're including the near-empty local airport here now, too-have worked to its advantage.

The number of visitors to Sarasota never slumped last year. A marketing campaign pitching "get away with your family" suddenly had resonance in the fall no one dreamed of when it was introduced to more than a few smirks from the cynics late last summer.

The snowbirds even came back early this season; and according to Haley, a little bad weather up North-combined with the opening of the Ritz-Carlton--and this community will be looking at just a fine tourist season, thank you.

"Helplessly dependent on the kindness of strangers," is how newspaper columnist Barbara Peters Smith described Sarasota's reliance on tourism. Amen.


Over 30? Then you've never heard of this sport-but its national championship was here. Well under Sarasota's mainstream radar, more than 1,000 young athletes from across America came to the Sarasota Polo Club in November to compete in the Ultimate Frisbee national championship. Only they don't call it that, just "ultimate," because Frisbee is only one of many brands of disks used to play the seven-to-a-side team sport that borrows heavily from soccer and some from basketball--except you can't dribble.

Especially popular in Scandinavia, Canada and Japan, ultimate is a classy game using an honor code in place of referees; and the entry fee includes as many bananas as you can eat. I'm not kidding.

Actually, the Southeastern Regional Ultimate competition was in Sarasota in October, drawing 600 competitors-and the local media never noticed that, either.

One of the "old men" of ultimate, 34-year-old Miami attorney Michael Owens, says the Sarasota Polo Club "is a natural and beautiful spot for the sport, and you can be sure we'll be coming back for years."

Mayor Mayhem

Sarasota vice mayor Mary Quillin is-well, shall we say abrupt. Depending on who you ask, she's also either pushy, sympathetic to the downtrodden, a twisted bully or brilliant. Oftentimes more than one.

She's also a genuine quandary for her fellow city commissioners, who are understandably a little uncomfortable with her temper tantrums and locked office door-something no other commissioner has maintained in modern memory. And they have to decide soon whether to elect Quillin mayor and put her in the city's political spotlight.

When a secretary Quillin had taken a particular dislike to was transferred out of City Hall, retired mayor Gene Pillot, who tangled with Quillin almost constantly, said, "That secretary was more help to the commission than Quillin ever will be."

Pillot always was one to speak his mind.

There's some rationale for re-electing now-mayor Carolyn Mason since she hasn't served a full term-and the on-deep-background word is that's a serious consideration these days.

Hot Seat

Secretary of State Katherine Harris represented Sarasota in the Florida Senate before going on to higher office, and now she wants to replace Rep. Dan Miller representing us in Washington. Here's her take on the race and a few other things.

Q. Do you think your role in the Presidential election will help or hurt you in your coming race for the House of Representatives?

A. I wouldn't give up the role I played for anything. I followed the law

exactly, and people tell me how grateful they are. Personally it gave me the opportunity to focus on issues I care about such as election reform and the arts, and we've passed meaningful election reform in Florida. In fact, the Wall Street Journal said we're leading the nation in election reform because the legislature passed nearly every element of my election reform bill.

Q. Can you give me short, clear answers?

A. I don't have time for short answers. They're hard.

Q. What was the hardest part of being a political symbol?

A. The misinterpretation of my character and the way the media distorted who I am. But after the Sept. 11 crisis, that seems pretty insignificant.

Q. If elected, do you plan to continue Dan Miller's fight against subsidies for big sugar?

A. I promise to walk the district, have town hall meetings and learn what's important to the district. I'll hear that and then decide.

Q. You were a member of the Ringling Museum Board of Trustees, a board that last fall changed the art museum's free day from Saturday to Monday. Do you support that change?

A. That was always a difficult issue because the museum would raise more money if the free day was other than Saturday. But I always felt it was in the museum's best interest not to change.

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