Street Talk - March 2004

By staff March 1, 2004



Aussie Nigel Zweck creates a buzz at The Ritz.

Nigel Zweck, the 26-year-old banquet director for The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, says you can't take the country out of a country boy. Exhibit A: his R.M. Williams boots, adopted while growing up on his family's farm in South Australia. "They are very high quality boots made from one piece of leather," says Zweck. They're also the perfect accessory for this single, six-foot-six, heartthrob/sommelier, who began his career at the Sydney, Australia Ritz as wine director, transferred to the San Francisco Ritz and finally landed in Sarasota. Here, wine connoisseurs are buzzing over his additions to the hotel list, especially boutique vintages from smaller vineyards the world over. What brought you to Sarasota? Career needs. This hotel has a lot of potential for growth.

How do our beaches compare to Australia's? I used to surf every day in Australia, but the water is freezing in San Francisco. The water is warmer in Sarasota, but there aren't any waves. So after moving my surfboard all around the world, I've only been surfing once since moving to the United States.

Explain your affinity for wine. My family has a property near the Clare Valley. I love the agricultural aspect of wine making, and of course, the joy of enjoying it.

Your personal favorite? Any wine from Australia, of course, but it would have to be St. Hallet's "Old Block" Shiraz, 1994, from the Barossa Valley.-Pat Haire

Hot Seat

Bob Richardson has a 40-year career in Sarasota as a commercial realtor and community supporter. As president of The Downtown Alliance, the newly reconstituted Downtown Association, he isn't shy about pointing out what he believes Sarasota's downtown needs.

Q: What's your favorite city?

A: I've been to Paris, London and I get to New York City often on business. But when you take into account all the amenities we have here-education, the arts and cultural life, public safety, health care, climate, physical beauty-it's hard to beat Sarasota. Just the sunshine is a benefit since sunshine affects your mood and feeling about life.

Q: Your thoughts on the ever-controversial downtown noise ordinance?

A: If we could encourage a younger, more active crowd in our community it would be a great boost. The noise ordinance and, as importantly, the perception of it, hinder us somewhat.

Q: What motivated you to take on the Downtown Alliance?

A: A low I.Q. and a big ego. Seriously, I moved here from Hamilton, Ohio. When you're born on the wrong side of the tracks, the best thing to do is get the hell out of town and reinvent yourself. Now I live on the 10th floor of Bay Plaza and look straight out Big Pass. Truly, Sarasota has physical beauty rare in the world. Our bay is one of the greatest physical assets possible. We've done some great things here without ever really breaking a sweat, and I'd love to see Sarasota break a sweat some time-where would that take us? Meanwhile, we continue to attract bright, wealthy people who can do anything they want and be wherever they want to be.

Q: What's your primary goal as president of The Downtown Alliance?

A: I'd like to raise $200,000 a year for four years for the Downtown Partnership and leverage that to help downtown Sarasota reach its potential.

Q: What's your biggest obstacle in achieving that?

A: The community's doubt in itself and lack of realization that it should set and address goals.

Q: What should downtown do to become a magnet for locals and visitors?

A: Number one, they need to clean it up, because it's dirty and unsightly. At night, they need to light it up bright and welcoming and ask the merchants to stay open a little longer. Some really good landscaping rather than these trees that cover the street lights would help, too. Mostly we need to stop asking government to do it all for us if we expect it to be done right. Merchants should take some responsibility, too, even in little things like keeping flowers in front of their business.

Q: What keeps you awake at night?

A: We have had so much for so long we argue about silly details and so far, we've gotten away with it. We have no crisis, so there's no big rallying points. So we spend years arguing about our bus station or a bridge, years of being ugly to one another about the location of a new library. The best thing we could develop is community spirit so we'll keep our focus and live up to our potential.-Bob Ardren

Best Bite

Recipe for Sierra Station: One 151-year-old railroad station lovingly restored; one hip crew that believes in being nice to everyone; one menu with lots of pastries and wraps but also a killer burger, homemade soups and tasty coffees. Add in hot breakfasts Saturday and Sundays, stir from 7 to 7 daily, except Sunday, when it's 9 to 7. Serve at 400 N. Lemon in the rapidly redeveloping Rosemary District and watch the young professionals pull in.-Bob Ardren

Burning Issue

Sarasota County is preparing to spend millions of dollars to try to obtain permits and re-open Midnight Pass. Should that happen?

"I don't have a problem with re-opening Midnight Pass but does the county understand what it's going to take to maintain it? I know people on Casey Key who, if they [the county] move to harden the pass, will file lawsuits. They've seen the hardened Venice Inlet and the results to the south. I think the real loss is the loss of navigability in Big Pass-and if it closes, that's a disaster."

Allan Horton, retired environmental and editorial writer for the Sarasota Herald- Tribune.

If anything is attempted, do it right. That includes no hardening of shorelines and making the extra effort to create both ebb and flood tide deltas to try to simulate the mechanics of nature at an inlet. And let the pass migrate within reason. If they try to keep it in one spot, they're doing pseudo-hardening.-Tom Cross, member of the original blue-ribbon committee on re-opening Midnight Pass

Fifteen million dollars is a lot of money and they're understandably out looking for it. But I've always been for re-opening the pass-I voted for it when on the county commission-and we've spent 20 years now trying to accomplish it.-Former County Commissioner and Siesta Key resident Jack O'Neill

I've seen the water quality in Sarasota and Roberts bays go south ever since the pass was closed off. When you've got bad water quality, everything, including the fisheries and the birds, goes south. -Marine officer Doug Peters, Sarasota Police Department

A new estuary has definitely formed there [behind the closed pass], but it's polluted. It would be nice if we could correct the upland problems [the nitrogen-rich runoff from thousands of homes along Phillippi Creek that flows into the bay] but let's be honest, that's not going to happen. I don't see any other option to opening the pass.

-Capt. Jonnie Walker, dean of Sarasota's fishing guides

Now Hear This

"It's time you started listening to your own staff telling you this is the right thing to do, not some out-of-town hired gun brought here just to serve a private interest."

Paul Thorpe, retired executive director of the Downtown Association, speaking to the city commission as it made a final decision on locating the new downtown bus station on Lemon Avenue.


Sarasota's Earl Pollock helped write the Brown v. Board of Education ruling.

In the summer of 1953, 26-year-old Earl Pollock, fresh from graduating first in his class at Northwestern University Law School, came to Washington, D.C., to clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Fred Vinson. When Vinson died just two months later, his replacement, Earl Warren, asked Pollock to stay on. So began Pollock's involvement in Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark school desegregation case.

The 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education will be commemorated in May; and Pollock, now a Sarasota resident, recently shared his memories on National Public Radio and with a crew from the Discovery Channel, which traveled here to interview him for a program that will air in May.

"Before Warren came on, there was great doubt as to how the court would decide" because it had been so split on the segregation issue, Pollock remembers. But "Warren's position was to take it very slowly and patiently talk it out."

The chief justice "wrote a heartfelt statement of the crux of what he wanted to say on a few sheets of yellow legal pad," says Pollock. "I took it home that weekend and proceeded to work on it for about 24 hours straight to try to come up with a revised draft as quickly as possible." Pollock says his job was to "approach it from the standpoint of what was necessary in a formal opinion, not in any way to change the framework of the Chief Justice's expression of how it ought to be decided. A good deal of his language in his original memo was retained in the opinion."

The explosive social consequences of striking down the nation's "separate but equal" doctrine created "a certain amount of tension," Pollock remembers. "Everything had to be kept very secret; many clerks in other offices were kept out of it."

Brown v. Board of Education underwent several revisions, although none altered the original document significantly. When it was finally done, Warren had Pollock deliver a copy to Justice Hugo Black on Black's home tennis court in Alexandria. On May 17, 1954, the court announced the unanimous decision that opened the floodgates of desegregation: "We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."

After his clerkship ended, Pollock moved to the Justice Department as assistant to the Solicitor General, then went on to a long career as an antitrust specialst in one of Chicago's largest law firms. (Another claim to fame is that he hired for his firm a young attorney named Scott Turow, who later wrote the blockbuster legal novel, Presumed Innocent.) Pollock and his wife, Betty, bought a vacation home in Bradenton in 1972; in 1992 he retired and they moved to Sarasota. Recently elected vice president of the Florida West Coast Symphony board, Pollock this winter taught a course on constitutional law at Sarasota's Pierian Spring Academy.

It was "exhilarating and terrifying," Pollock says of working on the critical document. "We were all keenly aware that this was a historic decision, possibly the most important the court had ever entered."-Ilene Denton


Looking at David Davis' Applause at the Van Wezel.

The sculpture Applause, created by David E. Davis, is a standing ovation to the all-important issue of scale in three-dimensional art. Designed to complement the activities inside the Van Wezel, the work succeeds heroically. The vertical elements recall outstretched arms in the gesture we make before our hands conjoin to be audible. In the palms of those "hands" Davis has placed the geometric forms of a circle, square and triangle to reference dance, theater and music.

Whether we reach the elevated entrance to the Van Wezel by car along the extended approach from Tamiami Trail, walk from the north parking lot or travel from the south on the wooden footbridge across water and mangroves, we are arrested by the sculpture's simple dramatic form. At dusk, Applause basks in the light its silver surface reflects, and after sunset incandescent beams illuminate the sculpture, adding drama to our entrances and exits from the theater.- Mark Ormond

Mark Ormond is a Sarasota-based writer and art consultant.

Applause, 1991

348 x 300 x 300 inches

Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall


Michael's On East's Phil Mancini searches for party food at Sam's Club.

Sam's Club is famous for its bare-bones atmosphere and prices, but can a chef who caters the toniest parties in town find anything worth serving in those cavernous freezers and bins? It took a while for Phil Mancini to focus, as he raced around looking at go-carts, trampolines and small appliances. Finally, we coaxed him into the food section, where Emeril's gourmet chicken and pork sausage caught his eye, along with cut pork loins ("great on the grill, especially with a special rub").

After careful sniffing ("smell everything!"), he approved the tomatoes, then headed to the freezers. "First rule," he cautioned, "avoid anything fried, breaded or in too much pastry." (Exception: Nancy's Petite Quiches make good hors d'oeuvres.) He also advises looking for top labels, like Tyson or anything by Cohen's. After exploring the frozen offerings, he joked, "This place could put a caterer out of business."

His five top freezer finds? Rumaki scallops wrapped in bacon; cooked shrimp; Yakitori teriyaki chicken sticks; Farmrich cheese sticks; Minh crab rangoon, and Cheesecake Factory cheesecake. But nothing excited him more than good old Pepperidge farm garlic-flavored Texas Toast, the Mancini family's favorite comfort food: "We keep two in the freezer at all times."

-Rebecca Baxter

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