These are terrifying and exhilarating times for a lot of Sarasota and Manatee old-timers who cheer the area's new development and mourn the loss of landmarks at the same time. The pace of development is so rapid that it's impossible to assimilate. "You won't recognize Sarasota five years from now," predicts Sarasota developer Charlie Githler. That's the problem. While I'm excited about all the new buildings, residents and businesses, I'm also nervous. What's going to happen to the town I love? As director of The Argus Foundation, Kerry Kirschner advocates for growth, but the longtime Sarasota resident confesses even he is flummoxed at all the change: "Sometimes I go to bed and I don't know what I'm going to wake up to the next morning."
That's true in Manatee County, too, where almost one billion dollars worth of construction is under way. On a recent media bus tour of Palmetto and Bradenton, I was struck by the enthusiasm Tanya Lukowiak, director of the Palmetto Community Redevelopment Agency, showed for all this change. Every mobile home park we passed in Palmetto was "an opportunity" just waiting for the right developer. I watched the tiny trailers slip by in the window and wondered about the people who lived there. What opportunities were in all this for them? Where would they go?
While I applaud the entrepreneurial energy that's transforming our region, I want to make sure we retain the small-town qualities, one-of-a-kind businesses and long-established neighborhoods that attracted many of us here. In a recent issue of The New Yorker, author Jane Jacobs stressed the importance of a homey sense of place: "Emotions draw us to cities, and they depend on things being a bit messy. The most perfectly designed place can't compete."
As I interviewed the developers featured in our cover story (p. xx), I was encouraged that many of them appreciate our uniqueness. "I like the feel of this place," says Broadway Promenade developer Casey Cummings, who builds all over the state. "It's not homogenous and filled with chain stores. Sarasota has a Bohemian feel, real streets and neighborhoods that connect to other places."
I also take comfort that sometimes I misjudge. I admit that I was opposed to the new Ringling Bridge until, far into the construction, I saw its silhouette as I rounded the bend just past Selby Gardens along U.S. 41. The new bridge fit our town perfectly and I immediately fell in love with it. Upward and onward.