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Sarasota mayor: Quit bashing would-be developers, projects

Liz Alpert says people considering investing in the city should be treated with courtesy, even if the project isn't in line with what people think it should be.

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 10:00 a.m. March 18, 2024
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
Liz Alpert speaks after being awarded the key to the city by now-former mayor Kyle Battie just before she was named mayor for 2023-24.
Liz Alpert speaks after being awarded the key to the city by now-former mayor Kyle Battie just before she was named mayor for 2023-24.
Photo by Andrew Warfield
  • Manatee-Sarasota
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The underlying perception among some in the business community that Sarasota can be hostile, or at least difficult, to bring big development projects to fruition came to the forefront at a recent city commission meeting.

This came primarily from Sarasota Mayor Liz Alpert, a city commissioner first elected in May 2015. (Sarasota has a mostly ceremonial mayor that rotates annually; city administration is overseen by a city manager who reports to the five-member City Commission.) 

Alpert, near the conclusion of the Feb. 20 City Commission meeting, took the commissioners’ comments period to admonish what she sees as hostility toward individuals and organizations who bring proposals to staff and commissioners, according to the Sarasota Observer, sister paper of the Business Observer

Although not mentioning him by name, the comment was likely in reference to Sarasota resident Jeffrey Koffman, who during a Feb. 5 meeting pitched commissioners on a public-private partnership to activate Ken Thompson Park on City Island, near St. Armands Circle. 

Koffman and his brother, David Koffman, own businesses from ski resorts in New Jersey to bagel shops in Sarasota, and they seek to redevelop the 25-acre city property. Their proposal includes beach restoration, day docks, splash pad, topiary garden, walking trails and more. In exchange, they also want to use a portion of the park to make Sarasota the U.S. headquarters for park golf, a globally growing miniature version of the sport that is played with a single mallet-like, non-lofted club and a plastic ball. The proposal even includes an Aerobar, a circular gondola that lifts passengers 120 feet into the air and rotates 360 degrees to provide a panoramic view.

Alpert, a family law attorney whose City Commission term ends this year, didn’t address the Koffman project or any resistance to it specifically. But she mentioned other past proposals, or even chatter of proposals, as being unnecessarily derided.  

At the meeting, Albert, according to the Sarasota Observer, said: 

“We have people who think enough of our community to come and want to make an investment in our community, who want to honor us with that and want to propose something, and we treat them like criminals. 

“We vilify them. We act like we're offended that they want to make an investment in our community, and I think we should treat them as courteously as we expect to be treated ourselves and as courteously as every resident expects us to treat them. 

“They are not criminals. We may not like what they are proposing. We are free to say it's not really what we want to do, but we don't have to treat them like they are an affront to us that they should even suggest such a thing. 

“We did it with the group that came to do the Lido Key pavilion, when they were invited to do a request for proposal to do a particular project and they came, did the exact project that was part of the RFP and they were vilified. 

“We did it with the orchestra who was here for 70 years, and the fact that they would have the audacity to say that they might want to locate in 7 acres of Payne Park, they were treated terribly and vilified and chased out of town. I think we have to really think about how we approach these kinds of things.It's not civil. It's not courteous, and we can turn it down. We don't have to go along with it, but we can thank people that they think enough of our community that they want to come and invest in our community.”



Mark Gordon

Mark Gordon is the managing editor of the Business Observer. He has worked for the Business Observer since 2005. He previously worked for newspapers and magazines in upstate New York, suburban Philadelphia and Jacksonville.

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