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NOISEMAKER TWEEN THE LINES Jennifer Monda kidcasts on Radio Disney. Sarasota Middle School eighth-grader Jennifer Monda got her big break when Radio Disney stopped at the Sarasota Film Festival last year to audition more than 50 youngsters for a coveted role as a kidcaster on the tween-themed radio station. Jennifer, now 14, stood out from […]


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NOISEMAKER

TWEEN THE LINES

Jennifer Monda kidcasts on Radio Disney.

Sarasota Middle School eighth-grader Jennifer Monda got her big break when Radio Disney stopped at the Sarasota Film Festival last year to audition more than 50 youngsters for a coveted role as a kidcaster on the tween-themed radio station. Jennifer, now 14, stood out from the competition, says Pat George, promotions director for WWMI 1380-AM, the regional Radio Disney station, because of her “confident, sunny personality. She’s very natural; in a nutshell, the girl next door.” What do you do as a kidcaster for Radio Disney? I go to neat events, like the Florida Aquarium. I spent the night there and took notes; then I came in [to the station] the next day and reported on-air about it. I did a story about gangs, and the American Victory cruise ship with the Army, and nutritionists. What’s the coolest thing you’ve done? We went to Disney World and actually got to interview some teen TV and pop stars-Ricky Ullman, Stevie Brock, Greg Raposo, Ryan Pinkston-and go to an after-party with them and do a report on-air. What do your friends think about your job? They think it’s pretty cool-’Oh, you get to meet so-and-so.’ They’re happy for me. There’s a lot of responsibility associated with a job like this. I have to get the facts straight, obviously, no lies, because a lot of kids are listening to me. Some of them are five years old. What are your career plans? To stay in broadcasting, something on the lines of Entertainment Tonight. I love that. -Ilene Denton

FATCITY

Dining off the beaten track with Bob Ardren.

April showers may be big in some parts of the country, but in Sarasota April is guaranteed beautiful spring weather-and that means outdoor dining, waterfront style.

Outdoor dining at the water’s edge is the best of all, and it’s heartening that in politically conservative Florida, government has paired with private enterprise to bring us what ends up being affordable outdoor dining at the water’s edge.

In other words, on rented, government-owned waterfront.

For example, Anna Maria Island’s “Socialist Pancakes,” as I like to call them.

Now understand, Anna Maria is traditionally not only heavily Midwestern, it’s also heavily Scandinavian, particularly Danish. Are you starting to get the political picture?

Seven days a week you can have a wonderful pancake and sausage breakfast right on the beach, so good it was written up in the New York Times last spring. Just drive on in to Café on the Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach.

“Lovingly gruff cooks seem determined to make a regular out of anyone who visits more than once,” the Times reported last year. “Our routine is simple. We eat some pancakes, read the papers, eat some more pancakes and read some more papers. By the time the kids get bored, it’s generally time for lunch.”

Believe it or not, the price is $4.25.

Open for just breakfast and lunch, Café on the Beach offers eggs Benedict ($4.50) and full breakfasts of eggs, toast, meat, potatoes or grits or fruit for $3.95. For lunch, grouper sandwiches are $7.95, Caesar salads $4.95. And the Midwestern roots are showing again with a pork tenderloin sandwich, $5.95. Who says a little socialism doesn’t work?

Within the city of Sarasota are several good eating spots on government land, including Marina Jack-but we’re going to stick with the inexpensive ones.

Not many people realize the New Pass Bait Shop sits on city-owned land, at 1505 Ken Thompson Parkway. The attached sandwich stand also serves breakfast and lunch, but in a move that’s the opposite of Café on the Beach, emphasis is on lunch here. Hmmm, a little planning and this could become a movable feast.

Burgers ($4.49) and New Pass subs ($6.99) are the stars of the menu, and you eat at picnic tables lined up right on the shores of New Pass. There are also all the usual cold salad sandwiches ($4.99-$5.49), plus fried chicken and fish (both $5.40). Sides include hot soups ($2.19) and French fries ($2.39). Beer and wine are available.

The shop opens at 7 a.m. to accommodate bait-shop patrons (you can get the freshest live shrimp in town here, if you’re interested in a little shrimp sushi). The big breakfast seller is a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich ($3.50). The shop closes at 5 p.m.

Just a couple of hundred yards deeper into the pass, toward Sarasota Bay, is a branch of the Old Salty Dog, also renting its location from the City of Sarasota. Some might consider “the Dog,” as it’s affectionately known, a bit upscale-but how can you consider a place selling battered, deep-fried hot dogs upscale? One of those in a sandwich, by the way, is $4.75. Open for lunch and dinner, 11 a.m. to at least 9:30 p.m., seven days.

One of the city’s least-known Gulf-side eateries is the Pavilion on Lido Beach, open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Celebrating their Egyptian heritage, Bob and Nancy Marzouk always have homemade (by Nancy’s own hands) baklava ($1.25) on the menu. It’s supposed to be dessert, but I always eat mine first.

Shockingly good cheeseburgers ($3.55)-the best around-or at least on the beach, according to one friend with solid ties to the restaurant business. For $5.40 you get a cheeseburger basket with good French fries.

Hot dogs come in two sizes, small for $2 ($3.85 as a basket) and large for $3.50 ($5.35 basket). Chicken sandwiches, steak sandwiches (both $4.85) and grilled cheese ($2.75) round out the sandwich menu. Note that large pizzas ($8) are available, as are another house specialty, malts and shakes ($4).

Last on this list is the Siesta Beach Pavilion, officially known as the Snack Shop-this one on county-owned terrain. One of my favorites for Sunday morning coffee, the Snack Shop specializes in early morning beach walkers with its $1 coffee, bagels and cream cheese for $2, four flavors of fresh muffins ($1.25), a fresh fruit cup ($2.75) or meat, egg and cheese on an English muffin ($2.25).

None of the many, many lunch items is fancy, but, for example, the bratwursts ($4.50), barbecue pork ($3.50), burger ($3), beef hot dog ($2.75) or Italian sausage ($4.50) are simply good. Especially popular are the $5 wrap sandwiches in your choice of ham, roast beef, chicken, turkey, shrimp or tuna salad.

Open 9 a.m. until sunset most days, the Snack Shop is a surprisingly good and affordable beachfront spot with its covered tables overlooking Siesta Beach.

Sarasota is seen by many as a tribute to-and market for-the very finest (and most expensive) of just about anything. But just living here is a real bargain in my eyes. Everything else is just an “upgrade.”

HOT SEAT

Linda DesMarais

TV news veteran Linda DesMarais has worked in several Florida markets, including as a former news executive at Sarasota’s WWSB-TV. She’s now the general manager of SNN-6, the local all-news cable channel sponsored by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and Comcast Cable.

What is your news-sharing relationship with the paper? It’s what makes SNN unique. We really do live together and work together. Both SNN and the Herald-Tribune share in the morning news meetings where we make story assignments. But we approach things differently. Some things we see as big stories, print might not think are such big stories, and vice versa. And we follow stories together and work together while covering them. We’ve even begun to hire in a multimedia way. We have print reporters who can cross over in front of the camera, and TV reporters who can have a byline in print. I think that’s good; they have to exercise a lot of muscles.

What about our market allows such a unique approach? Our area is a one-cable area. It would be much harder to launch such a thing if there were five different cable companies to compete with. And Sarasota is an incredibly personal local market. People love this city, and we want to reflect that. And just look at all the big national stories that have happened here: President Bush was at Booker Elementary School when 9/11 happened, and some of the terrorists worked in Venice; even the Carlie Brucia case was something that people on a national level were interested in.

What are the challenges of this market? We are somewhat divided by region. What people consider to be crucial news in Sarasota may not be considered crucial news in Charlotte. So we have to make sure our stories are interesting enough so that people won’t just turn away because they’re not interested in a story from Charlotte.

How important are ratings? Right now, not very. We have not felt it necessary to subscribe to Nielsen, the large ratings company. We need to see how the increased visibility and awareness brought from our new building will affect our growth first.

How is new media affecting the future of TV news? My firm belief is that content is king. The distribution system can change, but the company’s core product is good journalism, and whatever company has the best content will be on top. For now, TV is still the best way to reach a mass audience.

What keeps you up at night? In the short term, planning for the growth of this TV station. In the long term, worrying that the next generation will inherit this earth from us, and I’m hoping that they do better by it. I really do think about that. -David Higgins

Art Buzz

Inside the visual arts with Mark Ormond.

Dr. Helga Wall-Apelt, founder and driving force behind the Museum of Asian Art formerly downtown, has signed an agreement with the John and Mable Ringling Museum that gives the Ringling her collection and provides funds to convert the existing West Galleries there into a wing for Asian art. She’ll also provide an endowment for a curator of Asian art and money to support programs, with the desire to establish an institute for research and study of Asian art. Her donation will complement the Asian objects collected by John Ringling as well as the ceramics and porcelain given to the museum by Nancy and Ira Koger.

Longtime civil rights activist Julian Bond was in town recently visiting friends when the subject of Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation came up. Bond’s father was a friend of Dr. Albert Barnes, who left instructions in his will that his collection remain in Merion, Pa., to be used by students of the school he founded. Bond said he was “very disappointed in the decision of the judge” to allow the collection to be moved to a building a few blocks from the Rodin and Philadelphia Art Museum. “It establishes a terrible precedent for future collectors and philanthropists,” he said. Bond noted Philadelphia has a habit of breaking wills. Attorney John G. Johnson had his will broken by the courts in 1937, when the Philadelphia Museum of Art decided it wanted to move the collection to the museum rather than maintain it in his center city townhouse.

The Sarasota County Arts Council has been giving cash awards to artists in Sarasota County through its John Ringling Fund for Artists; now The Hermitage on Manasota Key, in collaboration with the council, has introduced the Sarasota Fellows Program, which will award a two- to three-week residency to one winning artist and one winning writer or composer. “This program provides an opportunity for Sarasota visual artists and writers, possibly not known to our national selection committee, to access the special environment the Hermitage provides,” says executive director Bruce Rodgers. Like all Hermitage fellows, the winning Sarasota artists will be asked to perform two services to the community that may include readings, lectures, open studios, exhibitions or school visits.

Assistant Ringling Museum curator Francoise Hack has assembled an exhibition about the museum’s first director, Everett “Chick” Austin, timed to coincide with this month’s final installation of elements of the Asolo Theater purchased from Austin by the museum in the late 1940s and installed in the auditorium of the original museum in Gallery 20. (The theater was then moved to a building that was razed last year.) The exhibition will include original costume sketches for plays commissioned from Eugene Berman by Austin between 1948 and 1952, as well as the actual costumes, stored in the Asolo Theatre Company’s vaults for decades. When the Asolo hosted its first production, in 1952, famed music critic Virgil Thomson predicted that the theater would be “a model for other institutions.”

REBUILDING DOWNTOWN

Watch out for the nails as urban pioneers get to work.

By Stan Zimmerman

Urban renewal is done one trash can at a time. Beyond the glitzy high-rises along Main Street lie the “walk to downtown” neighborhoods included in Sarasota’s downtown master plan, the so-called “2020 Plan.” And it is there that success or failure will be achieved, one property at a time.

The successes will come thanks to the efforts of “urban pioneers,” who pack their station wagons and head into dangerous territory in search of a homestead. At long last, these pioneers are coming to downtown Sarasota. They’re not builders; they are rebuilders.

Let me offer an example from a friend in Washington, D.C., who works at the Library of Congress on Capitol Hill. About 10 years ago, he and his wife found an aging townhouse in one of the toughest neighborhoods on the eastern side of “The Hill.” It wasn’t a slum, it was a combat zone.

They spent years rehabilitating and rebuilding that old townhouse. For weeks, their trash can was filled with rotted moldings and crumbling plaster. The load slowly changed to scraps of new wood and empty paint cans as the project moved forward. And a few years later, that home was featured in the pages of Architectural Digest.

Just as their old townhouse changed, so did their neighborhood. Other pioneers moved in to join “the settlement in the wilderness.” In one short decade, the combat zone became a showplace of urban renewal. “I couldn’t afford to buy here now,” my friend says.

The same phenomenon is now occurring in one of D.C.’s worst areas, the 14th Street corridor that once was the city’s center of prostitution and drug dealing. Critics of this plot-by-plot revitalization call it “gentrification” and decry how it moves poor people out and urban professionals in.

We’ve always had rehabilitation in Sarasota, but mostly in the city’s middle-class neighborhoods. People worked on “fixer-uppers,” sometimes with the intention to sell at a profit. But often they were looking for a place to put down roots, willing to undergo the trauma of living in a house under perpetual reconstruction. Those houses, however, were new enough to be structurally sound with functional utilities.

Some of today’s urban pioneers in Sarasota are willing to start with much less in neighborhoods like Gillespie Park. Many of the homes there predate concrete-block construction. The homes were (and are) badly abused by decades of tenants paying absentee landlords, who did (and do) little maintenance. By modern standards, many of these homes are “tear-downs,” waiting for the developer’s wrecking ball.

But to urban pioneers, these are diamonds in the rough. While the rehabilitation costs will be high (new floors, new joists, new roofs, updated wiring and plumbing-the list is endless), the end result is a polished jewel glowing with historical authenticity and located within a short stroll from downtown. And when all the bills are totaled, a pioneer rehab still costs less than new construction.

More important than the dollars is the enhanced sense of community. As the experience of my D.C. friend shows, one pioneer attracts another, and soon there’s a critical mass of widespread rehabilitation. None of this requires a government subsidy, or even encouragement. Pioneers do it because they want to.

Laurel Park is a good example of what a run-down neighborhood looks like when the urban pioneers are finished. Blighted can become beautiful, one plot at a time. Gillespie Park and Park East are at a crossroads, as developers buy up plots for demolition. While some property remains available for pioneers to rehab, many others are disappearing as developers take advantage of the 2020 Plan to redevelop with high-priced construction behind walls and gates to keep the new inhabitants safe from the undesirables in the neighborhood.

Developers build only what sells, or they won’t remain developers long. Pioneers rebuild buildings they love, one board at a time, no matter how long it takes. Who do you think will make a better neighbor?

Cities all across America have benefited from urban pioneers. Would Key West be so appealing if all the gingerbread were replaced with aluminum siding? Name the charming city of your choice and ask yourself: Would it be prettier if all the buildings looked like new construction, concrete-block bunkers surrounded by gates and walls?

Gillespie Park and Park East are in a race between the community-building efforts of urban pioneers and build-and-sell-now developers. The result will determine the character of these neighborhoods for decades to come and affect the success or failure of the 2020 plan to create a livable, attractive downtown urban center.

The recent downtick in real estate activity may provide urban pioneers with one last opportunity to save Sarasota’s abused-but-beautiful older houses from the developer’s bulldozer. They will not only rebuild homes; they will also rebuild neighborhoods in ways developers can only dream about.