Go North!

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If two energetic business leaders have their way, waves of redevelopment will flow in a northerly direction from Rosemary District. Merry Berger and Ian Black have created Action Central, a pilot program that seeks to revitalize the blocks between 10th and 15th Streets.

"Our goal is to make it safe, scenic and green," says Berger, who visualizes the organization as a clearinghouse of action and information for residents, businesspeople, agencies and government.

Action Central’s first event was a year ago, when Black and Berger, together with several community leaders, organized a clean-up effort between 10th and 15th, and Central and Coconut Avenues. They also worked on renovating and installing new trash receptacles and removing the empty railroad cars that attracted vagrants. Berger, who friends thought was crazy when she bought property here, has even found an interesting tenant for her warehouse, Sarasota Architectural Salvage. She’s bought several bungalows she plans to renovate, and is interested in bringing more artists to work and live here.

"What’s important is that this area is now on the radar screen," says Black, a commercial realtor who relocated his trendy office north of 10th Street. "We’ve now established this as a logical place to locate your business."

Not only has Black’s move paid off in terms of picking up area listings, he’s also found an upscale office furniture store as a tenant for the neighboring building he owns: Brighton Commercial Furnishings.

But Black would like more leniency and flexibility from the city when it comes to zoning and development to entice new businesses. "The city should give incentives to people to redevelop rather than overregulate."

Now, warehouses and industrial buildings flank Central Avenue. Parts of the residential areas are rundown, with the occasional car rusting on a lawn and rutted roads. The challenge of redevelopment, says Berger, is getting the residents involved in the process.

"This area is a predictor of where society is going in terms of diversity, all kinds of it," she says. "The aim is to keep the population here and keep the place safe for them. We are committed to having this area revitalized. It’s just a matter of time."