Street Talk - February 2003

By staff February 1, 2003


Anyone with a dozen or more years in the Sarasota cultural scene will remember that former State Sen. Bob Johnson brought home more state money for culture here during the '80s and '90s than anyone else.

Serving on the boards of virtually every local arts group at one time or another, Johnson understood the need for state funding and did something about it. As a result, he was the most revered local leader among arts groups-at least to those that got the money.

Yet one night early this winter the former senator walked into a city commission meeting at the 6 p.m. start hour and sat for five hours waiting to be called to the table. A member of the board of the county fairgrounds, he was there to ask permission for the fairgrounds to have more car sales on its front lawn to bring its budget back into the black. But the commission, tired and ready to go home, adjourned without bothering to take up his item.

So Bob Johnson, who'd been helping govern Sarasota since long before some of the sitting city commissioners even moved to town, had to return two weeks later and wait again. Yes, the commission moved the process along to allow the added car shows so the fair could make some money through the year. But to anyone who remembers the Bob Johnson, who devoted much of his life to Sarasota's cultural life, not to mention Mote Marine Laboratory-it was surely a lesson in how quickly, how very, very quickly, people only remember what "you've done for them lately."


If you want to get legal about it, it's Section VII-109K of the city's zoning code that expressly forbids buildings looking like whatever it is that's sold within them. It dates back to 1982, when then-City Commissioner Bill Kline railed against the little Twisty Treat ice cream cone-shaped building that's still doing business up near Bay Haven School on the North Trail.

The goofy little place has won a place in many local hearts-and even a few articles about highway architecture-but Kline called it everything but cute that night. Well, Kline is long gone from the commission, but his legacy of forbidding buildings from looking like the product they sell is still on the books, according to Tim Litchet, head of the city's building, zoning and code enforcement department.

"Never had to enforce it," Litchet chuckles, because apparently nobody has ever filed a complaint-and of course the building the commissioner had such a hard time with was grandfathered in.

Most people promptly forgot the whole thing, but it kind of makes you wonder about all those model homes and model condos in the city, doesn't it? Asked about that recently, Litchet just laughed louder-but a little nervously..


Sometimes things happen you just have to write about, even if they're not "news stories." Take that indignant fellow who stalked down to the city commission table recently, flipped open his notebook computer and began reading the commission the city's own noise ordinance, announcing there's "a loophole, a gap in this ordinance."

The gentleman, who shall remain nameless, also played a recording off his computer that one commissioner described as "sounding like Dunkirk." Explosions followed by whistles and loud "cracks" filled the room and the computer operator fairly gloated. "This was the night of Oct. 21," he announced, adding he'd recorded the noise from his unit at 988 Boulevard of the Arts.

Well, you may have guessed it by now, but all those "noises" were the fireworks celebrating the Sarasota Centennial.

"Your time is up," City Clerk Billy Robinson broke in; and the speaker looked up to see five stony stares coming at him from the city commissioners. "Well, there's some people I'd like to thank," the speaker said. "Your time is up," Mayor Mason repeated; and for that fellow, here's betting his time is up for a long time to come at the city commission table.


Provence, a casual French restaurant and creperie, has come to 1532 Main St. Remember those good, really good French crepes you find in New Orleans and few other spots around the country? Hot from the pan, moist and slightly rich with tasty, tasty fillings? Classics like ham with asparagus and cheese or goat cheese with spinach tomatoes and onions?

They're at Provence, along with many more, including eight classic dessert crepes. Soups such as l'onion grantinee, vichyssoise and seafood bisque along with some good salads make Provence the latest natural for lunch-and that's in addition to both breakfast and dinner menus.

Fresh flowers on the table and French music in the background add to the ambience, too, so treat yourself to a casual taste of France downtown.


During his short (three years or so) tenure as director of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, John Wetenhall has experienced what must seem like a life-long roller coaster ride of emotion. Chronically short of funding, the museum suddenly found itself gifted with not only a new Circus Museum building this past year, but an unbelievable $42.9 million was first granted during the last Legislative session-then withheld by the museum's new "guardian," Florida State University. Now half that money has been released to the state art museum, but receiving the other half is contingent upon the institution itself raising $10 million in endowment funding over the next nine months.

Q: Are the days of "no funding" over at the Ringling Museum of Art?

A: No, but our horizons look much better. Funding by the Legislature supports only new buildings and grounds improvement. The money we must raise will support our programming and cultural mission: more programs for kids, outreach for the disadvantaged, better exhibitions, more publications and the like. It's important for people to realize that endowment funds contributed are eligible for state match-that is, two million dollars contributed becomes four million.

Q: How much will your annual maintenance appropriation have to increase to support the coming new facilities?

A: As part of FSU, our buildings receive maintenance funding based on square footage, so the new buildings will automatically be funded. Actually, the money we're raising will support what goes on in these buildings. Because much of the new buildings, including a restored Asolo Theater, support programming for the community and tourism, they will increase gate revenues.

You should know that since Cà d'Zan was restored and opened, our attendance has doubled.

Q: Bob Roskamp is working on establishing yet another facility-apparently a symphony hall-adjacent to the museum, yet that's not shown on the museum's master plan. Why?

A: Because the project isn't part of the master plan. Bob Roskamp is a great community leader and generously supports educational and health causes. He's assumed a leadership role in an attempt to put forward a later phase not officially adopted by our board or Florida State University. His support originated by a proposal from the symphony and it's totally unrelated to us, so there's no decision at this point.

Q: What's the size of your staff now and what do you see it being in five years?

A; It's about 150 people now, and of course a lot of them are in services- security and education activities. We also have 700 volunteers with 150 tour guides in training right now. So staff growth need not be that large in terms of paid staff. I hope to expand the curatorial and education staffs, but using efficient management practices, we needn't increase the number appreciably.

Q: What's your greatest wish for the museum?

A: My unwavering desire is that the Ringling Museum of Art achieve its fullest potential as a major cultural complex. We've got a great art museum, a magnificent mansion, a world-class circus museum, and we're home to three stages for performing arts of the highest caliber. Most importantly, it's the vision of FSU President Sandy D'Alemberte to create the Lincoln Center of the South.

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