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City to take another look at Town Square

By Staff | Oct 5, 2011

The last time the City of Sanibel attempted to move forward the concept of constructing a centrally located Town Square, nearly two years worth of research, planning and gathering public input was eventually dissolved over what Vice Mayor Mick Denham called “a turf war.”

But in recent weeks, the idea of resurrecting the Town Square concept has been brought to light during City Council meetings, with additional discussions on the subject highlighting Tuesday’s session.

“This is such a special, special community to live in,” said councilman Marty Harrity. “I think we have an opportunity to make this place even more special.”

Back in 2006, the initial idea to build a town center-type of facility to Sanibel, where residents and visitors could gather to enjoy special events and community-bonding activities, was brought before the council. A 9.5-acre parcel of land – at the time owned by the Nave family – was put up for sale, and several groups, organizations and businesses were asked to join together with the city in an attempt to create a special area on the island where people could congregate.

However, in 2008, that property was sold and the Town Square idea was thwarted even before it could get off the ground.

“We spent tens of thousands of dollars on consultants and plan development, but we didn’t put together the framework of what would be more appropriate,” said Denham, who suggested brining together several of the “parties interested” – including BIG Arts, Sanibel Public Library, Sanibel Historical Museum & Village, Sanibel Community Association and churches, among others – to talk with each other and help “create something that will be best for the entire community.”

Denham, who noted that one of the stumbling blocks brought up during the initial Town Square talks was density, suggested that city staff dig out all of the archived information and take a closer look at what work had been completed on the project. He hopes that, by the time the council conducts their next meeting, more information regarding the concept will be known.

“Where this goes, nobody really knows,” said Harrity, who was charged with starting a dialog with potential stakeholders focused on reviving the Town Square concept. “I don’t know why this didn’t work the last time.”

Denham suggested that during the previous talks on a Sanibel Town Square, the groups and organizations involved in developing the concept had an attitude of “our plan is better than their plan,” which led to the idea being stalled in late 2008.

However, the timing may now be right to resurrect the idea.

Councilman Doug Congress said, “This is certainly worth taking a look at, but where does this fall on our list of priorities?”

Mayor Kevin Ruane summarized Tuesday’s discussions on the matter, authorizing Harrity to begin informal talks and staff to establish a defined area and cost estimates as well as developing a project outline. But his top priority was researching the city’s archived information related to the Town Square.

“We’re putting a game plan together,” said Harrity.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Karen Storjohann told councilors that they may be underestimating the importance of available parking spaces at a Town Square. Barbara Cooley added, “Don’t let individuals, or little groups of individuals, hijack this project.”

Claudia Burns suggested that the problem with the previous idea was not density, but intensity of use. Fellow islander Gloria Hannon questioned, “Is this the best thing to spend our money on?”

Although no formal timeline for discussions on the subject were established, the council remained hopeful to bring the Town Square topic back at their next meeting, on Nov. 1.

“Let’s learn from the past, let’s learn from the money we spent,” added Ruane. “We’re in the very, very preliminary stage right now.”