Street Talk - September 2002

By staff September 1, 2002

It's summer-so travel!

One of the city's longest-running little family fights-where to put a new bus station-was finally resolved recently. One side wanted to put the new station right in the center of downtown, on Lemon Avenue, while the other side wanted it just about anywhere else-north of downtown or south of downtown, just not in the center.

I asked city manager Mike McNees why he was one of those wanting to keep the bus station out of central downtown, when bus stations are right in the middle of every European city. "Sarasota isn't Paris," McNees replied, and added that besides, he's never been to Europe anyway-"only to Canada."

That prompted a call to county administrator Jim Ley, another opponent of the center-city location-and guess what, his international travels consist of a "a couple of trips to Mexico and Canada."

So think about it. These two gentlemen have never experienced the up-to-date people-moving plans that are the core of Europe's transportation system. Can you be a good city or county administrator if you've never observed some of the world's greatest cities and metropolitan areas?

I suppose so, but a little first-hand knowledge of what makes the world's best cities work certainly wouldn't hurt. I suggest our administrators seriously consider a summer trip to Europe where, if nothing else, they've been working on solutions much longer than we have.

Resurrecting the Lido Casino?

Lido Beach needs an upgrading to keep pace with the new Radisson and soon-to-be-built Ritz-Carlton beach resorts, and that could mean a new community facility there.

The old Lido Casino was in many ways the social center of Sarasota. Regardless of the reasons for it being mostly demolished in the late 1960s, the fact is, it was never replaced.

"Mostly demolished," because for decades afterwards, the Lido Beach pool still served at least the nearby families until it too was destroyed by Tropical Storm Gabrielle last fall. Now the locals on Lido want it repaired and restored.

But the city and county commissions are talking about building a new facility at Lido Beach for the entire community-a place suitable for everything from beachside weddings to community-wide celebrations. Thus far that idea has met with mixed reactions from the Lido-area homeowners, but there does seem to be growing support for better public facilities at what many locals call "Sarasota's adult beach."

Best Bite

Cassoulet is clearly a hot new menu item around the country. In Sarasota you can find it in two versions-duck and pork-at Le Francilien, a small country French bistro at 2177 Siesta Drive.

Authentically French in the best sense, the 30-or-so-seat restaurant offers light lunches of soup, salads and sandwiches. Come dinner, however, the choices explode; and classic French dishes such as Coquille Saint Jacques, sautéed frog legs, various veal and duck dishes, along with steaks, appear.

Early bird specials from 5-6:15 p.m. offer a three-course meal at $8.99: after that, a broader offering of fixed price dinners starts at $11.99.

My date and I had a late dinner, complete with a bottle of the house red, for less than $45. Now that's a best bite.

Best sight

The newly opened Radisson Beach Resort just south of the Lido Beach Pavilion has an eighth-floor bar and restaurant offering a wonderful view of both Lido Beach and back across Sarasota Bay to downtown Sarasota.

What a place to watch the power boat races-which the organizers promise will return this year. Or what a place to watch the fireworks in the distance.

A major extra sight is the largest saltwater aquarium I've seen in private hands in Sarasota. It's a room divider and a huge one, with fish so bright they almost hurt your eyes. But my favorite tank is a small one down the entry hall where two large (and very fearsome-looking) morays serve as a kind of doormen to the establishment.

Hot Seat

Randy Wells has headed up the world's longest-running dolphin study-tracking the wild dolphins of Sarasota Bay on behalf of the Chicago Zoological Society-for more than 30 years now. We caught up with him at his headquarters at Mote Marine Laboratory, where he also runs the marine mammal program.

Q: So what's new with Sarasota Bay's dolphin herd-or is it a pod?

A: We call it a community. One of the new things is that the number of dolphins living within the bay is up to about 120 to 130. From 1976 until the mid-'90s, the number had stabilized at 100 to 105.

Q: Why the increase?

A: The net ban could have increased the food supply, or the predator population of sharks has been knocked down so far that more dolphin calves are surviving; our studies show the shark population is down 80 percent. The dolphins have had some excellent years for reproduction, too.

Q: What else?

A: There's a trend of the dolphins moving into deeper water. They used to use the shallow flats as sanctuary, but now lots of flats fishing boats and personal watercraft can chase after them right up onto the flats.

Q: What are your major concerns for Sarasota Bay's dolphin community?

A: First, the effects of boats. Four to five percent of the animals bear scars from encounters with boats, and our studies show that during daylight hours, a boat will pass within 100 yards of a dolphin every six minutes in Sarasota Bay. That's a lot of traffic.

Another major source of concern is anglers' discarded monofilament line. Young dolphins especially can become entangled or ingest it. But we also recently lost Hannah, an experienced female, when she swallowed a fish with a hook and leader dangling from its mouth. The leader tangled in Hannah's throat and strangled her.

Lastly, there are the toxins that kill most first-born dolphins in the bay. They build up in the mother's body until she delivers the first time, and because most of the toxins are purged from her body through her milk, the calf receives a fatal dose. Atoxin load that's okay for a 40-pound mother can easily kill a new calf. Generally, subsequent calves receive much smaller doses of toxins.

Q: The toxins in Sarasota Bay are that high?

A: We regard Sarasota Bay at a kind of intermediate level.

Q: Last words?

A: Please drive your boat slowly in shallow water and please don't throw used fishing line overboard. Just take it ashore with you.

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