Street Talk - March 2002

By staff March 1, 2002

A thousand new downtowners?

That's the concept consultant Chris Brown laid out for the Sarasota City Commission recently-and no, he doesn't work for the city, but for William Morris, who has developed some New Urbanism-style communities on Florida's east coast.

After a trio of Sarasota's land-use lawyers, dressed in their best black suits, threatened "to take action on behalf of our clients" if the city actually voted to adopt the Duany Downtown Plan, the commissioners were gnawing their collective knuckles. They badly needed a pep talk, and Morris gave them one.

"This is only the beginning," he said, adding that the big decisions on things like downtown density are still to come...and it's not time to fold now.

A former director of redevelopment in Delray Beach, where he spark-plugged a vigorous downtown revival, Brown told city commissioners he now wants to help build high-density rental projects on sites such as Jay Foley's at Main and Palm. Other possible sites are at Five Points and on central Main, where a Whole Foods Market could be built in combination with much-needed rental housing for young professionals.

"You allow 35 units to the acre downtown now-I want 135 units an acre for affordable, year-round downtown residents," Brown added. He was talking about as many as 500 new apartments downtown.

That's a whole new community, and the vision wasn't lost on the commissioners. Minutes later they decisively passed the Duany New Urbanism plan.

Now hear this

"This county has routinely destroyed "historically significant" buildings. To say being historically significant gives a building preservation status is ludicrous."

--Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton, expressing his dismay over the failure of local preservation ordinances. His comment came as the owner of the landmark residence that once belonged to artist Syd Solomon unsuccessfuly applied to have the house designated "historically significant" in hopes of avoiding a county demolition order. The Siesta Key structure is in serious danger of washing into the Gulf of Mexico and some officials want it taken down before it becomes a hazard.

Celebrity Sighting

Superstar Tom Cruise was spotted in Patrick's recently sporting a fake goatee in an obvious effort to remain unnoticed. So how did the observant local know who he was? "His lady friend was as beautiful as ever," she said.

Speaking of women

"Only a woman of pride, complexity, and emotional tension is genuinely worth the act of love, and there are only two ways to get yourself one of them. Either you lie, and stain the relationship with your own sense of guilt, or you accept the involvement, the emotional responsibility, the permanence she must by nature crave. 'I love you' can be said only two ways."

Sarasota's John D. MacDonald wrote about far more than gumshoeing gunrunners in "The Deep Blue Goodbye," and that's why academics wrote papers about Travis McGee and his enlightened attitude toward women. Today MacDonald and McGee are still being analyzed and admired at events such as next month's gathering of mystery writers, readers and collectors, scheduled for April 12-14 at the Sarasota Hyatt.

Stuart Kaminsky will in fact lead a discussion of "The Deep Blue Goodbye" during the three-day "Mystery--The Florida Connection" seminar. For more information, call XXX.

Hot Box

Kay Miller, the new news director at WWSB-TV, recently moved her crew into the station's new state-of-the-art facility on Tenth Street. We caught up with her between newscasts to see what we can expect from Channel 40 news.

Q. How long have you been in television news, and where?

A. I broke into TV news with the Fox station in Houston and came to WWSB-TV in 1997.

Q. What does all this new equipment mean to your news operation?

A. We walked out of our old station with nothing. It's all new gear that allows us to give better service, because we'll be able to do more community-affairs programing-you know, candidate forums, debates and the like. Of course, it also makes our product look better.

Q. What's going to be different in the news operation now?

A. A greater emphasis on local news-we're going to dive back into it in Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties. We've got a new consumer unit coming on line that will package stories showing fraud, corruption, wastes of taxpayers' money and risks to public health-a series I hope is my legacy here. Look for more local news in the morning and more live reporting from all over. It will be good, quality newsgathering-getting back to basics.

Q. Some people say Channel 40's newscasts-and many other local television stations' as well-are preoccupied with crime. If true, is it because that's easy and cheap?

A. That's not a fair assessment. The majority of our news is designed to inform people of what's going on. If the story that day is somebody to look out for, we report that. Whatever people are talking about today is what we try to cover. I try to instill in all staffers the habit of listening to what people are talking about at places like the YMCA or anywhere they go. "Good Morning America" gives a good indication of what's going on in the world--we try to bring it down to the local level.

Q. What's your strategy for competing with SNN [the Sarasota Herald-Tribune's 24-hour local news channel]?

A. We focus on live, breaking news. Our staff has experience and history in this community, which gives us a real advantage [over SNN], and we bring it to you live. There's big difference in doing news live, because on tape if you can make mistakes, you can just do it over.

Q. So how are your ratings?

A. We're waiting for the latest book right now, but generally they're excellent. For example, our audience outnumbers all the Tampa station combined.

City Report Card

New Sarasota city manager Mike McNees doesn't pull any punches-even with his own bosses.

In a city commission strategic-planning workshop, the city manager announced he was going to explain "The McNees Philosophy of Local Government,"

"The city is a service provider, and judging from what I've seen so far, you're a little spotty but looking pretty good," McNees explained. "Secondly, the city is a regulator, and you're definitely on top of this one with land planning and the like.

"Finally, the city is an employer--and that's where you're most deficient. Do you want to pay better than average or do you want to pay less than average? The truth is, we have no philosophy," the city manager concluded. And with that, his bosses had their marching orders on at least one small area of running local government.

Best Bite

Nobody returns from Baja in Mexico without raving about the wonderful fish tacos available at both street vendors and fancy restaurants, which extend from Ensenada in the north to Cabo San Lucas at Baja's southern tip. Now you can find them, along with other Mexican seafood treats, right here in Sarasota.

Cabo Cafe is a little off the beaten track, tucked away in the Sarasota Commons Shopping Center off North Beneva Road. But step inside and you'll think you're back in Baja-or at least, on Siesta Key.

Red and yellow walls trimmed in blue are festooned with mounted fish and pictures of chef Jim Colvin's fishing exploits in the Pacific Ocean. An honor graduate of San Francisco's California Culinary Academy, Colvin has worked in top restaurants in Southern California, in Baja, and most recently, at the Colony on Longboat Key.

Grouper tacos and burritos-or the same with flash-fried rock shrimp, if you prefer-are a specialty at the Cabo Cafe; grilled whole snapper marinated Baja-style with citrus juice, garlic and spices is another. Everything is made from scratch, and it's all a huge leap over typical Mexican restaurants in quality.

Check it out and you'll soon be returning to order "Uno taco de pescado, por favor."

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