Tony Souza has been on the job as executive director of the Downtown Partnership for about five months-enough time for the newness to wear off and the hard work to become hard work.
Q: Coming here from New Bedford, Mass., you've moved from one of the most liberal areas of the country to a state where the President's kid brother is governor. How serious has the cultural shock been for you? A: I don't see the Partnership politically. In fact, I haven't worn a political mantle for most of my career. On the other hand, I've met a lot of Republicans here who are actually liberal, with interests such as helping the less fortunate. So there hasn't been as much cultural shock as I expected. Truth is, no one has asked me my political position-or my wife's, either. The real cultural shock here is the cost of housing.
Q: Do you live downtown? A: Right now I live on Siesta Key, but I'm trying to buy downtown. I'd like to live in the community I represent. It would certainly help me be seen as more legitimate. The problem is being able to afford living downtown these days. But I'm not considering a permanent move to anywhere but downtown.
Q: Is affordable housing attainable in communities like Sarasota? A: Yes, it is. There are community land trusts holding lots or brand-new housing where the cost of land isn't passed on to the buyer. There's a built-in cap on the profit an owner can get, too, so the house stays affordable in perpetuity. That's only one solution, and there are many others, including affordable apartments and condos. Affordable housing is an issue across this whole country.
Q: The Isaac Brothers are the latest big new thing downtown with their block-spanning plans. What advice would you give them for their own and the community's long-term good? A: We don't want to see just the stores you can get in any mall anywhere. The only way a downtown can compete is with name-brand stores interspersed with local stores and galleries. That's when the shopping area become exciting and vital. So I'd say we've got a special downtown neighborhood here that needs serving. Serve its local character, because if you lose that you've lost your identity-and identity is what cities are all about.
Q: What keeps you awake at night? A: Being separated from my family. The job will keep me awake once the family gets here. Actually I love the job; and if I worried about the job, well, I probably wouldn't sleep at all. People have been extremely nice and helpful since I've come to town, and although some of my old friends were concerned for me, I've been welcomed to Sarasota with open arms.
Venice residents Linda McKee and Jan Londraville are writing a book on the unpublished letters related to the organization of the famous 1913 New York Armory show by John Quinn, Walt Kuhn and Arthur B. Davies. McKee reveals that Quinn was first the lover of the daughter of English painter William Morris and was later involved with Jeanne Foster, a well-traveled American poet, who gave many of Quinn's letters to Londraville's husband when he was working on Foster's biography. The two writer/detectives have found the other letters in the Archives of American Art and libraries around the country. An interesting tidbit from McKee: "Quinn was also the force behind having the Federal tax law changed to exclude taxes on works of art purchased elsewhere and brought home by collectors."
It may not be generally known that the poet Robert Creeley, who passed away March 30, was the father of David Ebitz, director of the Ringling Museum in the '90s. Creeley was a writer, editor and contributor to more than 60 books, and he visited Tampa frequently while working on collaborative projects with the equally renowned German artist Georg Baselitz in 1996, at Graphicstudio at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
Towles Court artist Beverly Fleming organized an exhibition of five generations of artists in her family for her gallery here. (Some of the works are always on view.) Fleming says the paintings of her grandmother and mother, who both died when she was three, were a great inspiration to her. In all she has the work of 16 family members dating back to the 1880s. Most of her family moved from Tennessee to Boca Grande, and Fleming lived in Arcadia for a short time before joining the rest of the clan on Boca Grande. Her grand-nephew, Joshua Karl Johnson, went to the Ringling School of Art and Design and now works for Calvin Klein in New York. Daughter Rila paints here, and her brother, Don Hargis, lives in Englewood and has a keen eye for detail in his watercolors.
Velázquez's 1625 portrait of Philip IV, King of Spain, which very rarely leaves the Ringling Museum galleries, has recently returned home here. Philip was the "poster boy" of an exhibition co-organized by the Seattle Art Museum and Patrimonio Nacional, Spain, called Spain in the Age of Exploration, 1492-1819.-Mark Ormond
Face it, summer can be pretty warm in Sarasota. You need some hot, spicy food to go with the climate. And if you haven't tried Amazing Shrimp at Tropical Thai, 1420 Main, you're in for a treat. It's, well, amazing.
Here's the deal. Served mild as it comes to the table, Amazing Shrimp is a wonderful steamed combination of shrimp and vegetables in a sesame peanut sauce that lends itself to spicing up to whatever level of heat you like. Ask your server for some spice and you'll receive a plate with three covered pottery bowls. One contains crushed red peppers such as those used in so much Italian cooking, one offers a fresh, uncooked hot pepper salsa that takes a braver diner than me to choose, and the other holds my favorite, a medium-hot spicy oil that intensifies the entire dish not explosively, but deliciously.
If shrimp aren't your favorite, Tropical Thai also serves Amazing Pork-a great flavor combination-and even Amazing Chicken for those determined to stay on the straight and narrow.
If you get a bit weary of the hot beach and liquid nights of a Sarasota summer, you may be excited to learn that Mote Marine Laboratory has joined forces with The Ritz-Carlton to offer something quite out of the ordinary.
It's called The Predator Package.
Basically, you go offshore and get up close with some very live and very wild sharks, but at night you're tucked into luxury at The Ritz-Carlton. Heck, they'll probably even let you swim by moonlight at the Ritz Beach Club-if you dare to after a day hanging out with real sharks.
The three-night Ritz package includes the cost of a high-tech satellite transmitter that you'll help Mote scientists attach to a wild shark in the Gulf of Mexico. Once back home, you'll be able to track "your" shark when the scientists download the electronic data and e-mail you a copy.
You'll also get lots of Ritz spa experiences, meals, behind-the-scene tours at Mote, a bottle of Mer Soleil wine, Mote membership and some special shirts attesting to your prowess as a shark hunter and researcher. They even include valet parking in the deal.
Mote researchers will get some valuable shark data they wouldn't otherwise be able to obtain, and you'll be able to both help marine science and indulge your love of luxury.
And best part of all-a portion of the $9,920 cost is tax-deductible.
Basin Bottom Boom
How hot is downtown real estate? Hot enough that developers are starting to worry about submerged lots-as in those lots platted a half century or more ago and now covered by water.
Take the Hyatt yacht basin, for example.
The Irish development company with big plans for the Quay recently hired Sarasota's dean of land-use attorneys, Michael Furen, to do his best to make sure they can keep the highest possible zoning for the bottom of the basin facing both the Hyatt and Ritz-Carlton hotels.
Why? Well that's a secret, at least for now. But one thing you know about Furen is he doesn't come cheap ($400 an hour, it's rumored), so keep your eye on the water behind the Quay. Even before global warming turns it into waterfront land, it may emerge as Sarasota's hottest new property.