Sarasota Observer: Could benches return to Five Points Park?

July 30, 2015 | By

This article was originally published on YourObserver.com (July 30, 2015).

Green BenchRon Soto knows it’s a controversial topic to tackle, but he’s not shying away from talking about park benches.

More specifically, Soto thinks it’s time to return the benches to Selby Five Points Park. The City Commission voted unanimously to remove the six benches from the park in April 2012, a divisive move designed to make it more difficult for homeless individuals to congregate in the public space.

More than three years later, Soto is convinced the experiment has borne no positive results. As a result, the Main Street storeowner and Downtown Improvement District board member is calling on city leaders to return the benches and add another amenity for the benefit of visitors at the downtown park.

“The idea of taking the benches out and the vagrants will go away — that idea has failed,” Soto said.

Although he’s reached out to a number of city officials in attempt to begin a larger conversation about the benches, he’s failed to gain any significant traction. Because the commission made the policy decision, staff says any reversal would also have to come from the commission.

Casey Colburn, chairman of the Downtown Sarasota Alliance, was hesitant to endorse the return of the benches without a clearly defined plan to address homelessness issues in the area as well.

“I think everybody agrees — ideally, they should be returned, and they should have been returned a long time ago,” Colburn said. “It’s been so frustrating, with all the great minds downtown, that we can’t have a clean and safe downtown.”

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