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Editorial: Pursue Town Square idea, but for right reasons

By Staff | Oct 12, 2011

Last week, members of Sanibel’s City Council brought forward the notion of reinvestigating the idea of creating a Town Square on the island.

Conceived as a place where residents and visitors alike could gather to enjoy special events and community-bonding activities, the council unanimously approved a request for city staffers to delve into their archives and take another look at what it might take to build a town center-type of facility on Sanibel.

But they did so with caution, and rightfully so.

The last time the city took any official action on such an idea, which first came to light some five years ago, it ultimately voted against the concept. However, that’s because the original, idealistic vision for the centrally-located piazza – where arts and crafts fairs could be held, where picnickers might enjoy an evening concert by a gazebo, where neighbors and friends could gather for special celebrations – veered far off its course.

The last time the Town Square idea was discussed, over a nearly two year period, the city spent “tens of thousands of dollars,” Mick Denham reminded his fellow councilors last week. So before Sanibel invests another penny on investigating the subject, it should first pore over the research, planning and public input gathered between 2006 and 2008.

That is exactly what the city is doing, and we think that’s the right approach.

Mayor Kevin Ruane authorized councilman Marty Harrity to begin “informal” discussions with some of the parties which would be most impacted by the creation of a Town Square, including BIG Arts, the Sanibel Public Library, Sanibel Historical Museum & Village, Sanibel Community Association and local churches, among others. Although it is still somewhat unofficial, Harrity’s mission is to ask those parties to collaborate with the city “to create something that will be best for the entire community.”

Denham stated 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.

Essentially, the city’s utopian plan was thwarted by, as Denham put it, “a turf war.”

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

Not everybody who attended last week’s council session supported the idea of reinvestigating the Town Square concept. Several members of the audience pointed out that the initial plans were hampered – and eventually crushed – by talk of adding a housing complex at the site.

On Tuesday, councilman Jim Jennings assured the Planning Commission that any idea for including additional housing units within the Town Square was “off the table.” That’s great news for supporters of the original concept, and lessens the fuel for any naysayers.

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 Tuesday, Nov. 1. We hope that our readers will support the idea of taking another look at the concept, and offer constructive suggestions during the session.

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

We think it would make Sanibel even more special, too.

– Reporter editorial