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Park privatization proposal draws protest

Written by on Saturday, March 23, 2024

At a small rally outside Sarasota City Hall, neighborhood organizers ask to stop Ken Thompson Park project.

By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: Mar. 22, 2024

Host: On Thursday, Lido Key residents and sympathizers organized a rally in front of city hall in downtown Sarasota to express their frustration that the city is considering a local businessman’s proposal to take over a public park. Our news team has the details.

Johannes Werner: More than 20 people holding signs rallied on Thursday afternoon outside city hall to make sure City of Sarasota Commissioners get the message: Hands off our public parks.

In February, Jeff Koffman and his Ride Entertainment business made a presentation to the city commission, proposing to take over Ken Thompson Park on City Island. In return for taking on the maintenance of Ken Thompson Park and paying rent, Koffman is proposing a restaurant, a nine-hole park golf course, an observation tower ride called Aerobar, and a water taxi dock.

At that meeting, city commissioners voted 3-2, with Jen Ahearn-Koch and Debbie Trice dissenting, to refer the proposal to the parks and recreation advisory board.

City Island is about to lose the 300,000 annual visitors the Mote Marine Aquarium brought, after Mote moves its attraction to the eastern suburbs. Koffman argues the park is underused and neglected.

Neighborhood organizer Flo Entler, one of the protesters, disagrees.

Flo Entler, r.: Ken Thompson Park is highly rated.

Flo Entler: I don’t agree with it at all. First of all, if you look at their rankings according to the master plan, it ranks at 4.5 out of five. It is a utilized park. It may not be activated – the term they like to use – but it is used. It’s a passive park. It’s green space where we can go and enjoy. There’s a beautiful mangrove boardwalk. There’s a half-mile loop around it, and there’s a little playground. Can it be updated with a few things? Yes. And it can have some park benches and a few more shade trees, so we can really go and enjoy even more but it does not need to be commercialized. I don’t agree, agree with privatization or commercialization of our city parks. And according to our master plan was supposed to have an acre for every 1000 citizens. The more we grow, the more green space we need. So we have very little so we have to protect what we have.

JW: This has been Johannes Werner, reporting for WSLR News.



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