St. Armands

Residents Association

Carousel and Winter Festival

A company has approached the City about installing a Carousel in St. Armands Circle Park.  As presented to Association Board Members, it would not be a stand-alone Carousel:  it would be in a fenced off area with other attractions such as swing sets, see-saws, and selfie booths.  An electric train that traverses the perimeter of the park was also part of the proposal.  It was originally proposed that the Carousel and other attractions could be taken away to make room for the other regular events that are held in the park (e.g. art festivals, car and boat shows, etc...), but we now understand that it is intended to be a fixed attraction.

Our Association Board voted unanimously to not support a Carousel in Circle Park for many reasons, but primarily because of the expected impact on traffic and pedestrian safety, especially on beach days in-season when many consider the Circle roadways to already be impassable.  In fact, the City already has a Special Events Ordinance (see link) which controls the frequency and intensity of events allowed at the Circle Park for this very same reason!  It is our understanding that the Carousel promoter is arguing that the Carousel be considered a "fixed attraction" instead of a "special event" for the purpose of avoiding the provisions of this ordinance.

St. Armands is also designated by City Ordinance as a low-impact "passive park" which should not be suitable to have a permanent carousel.

For information about the City's Special Events Ordinance as it pertains to St. Armands Circle Park, click here.

Here are links to some relevant information and communications in chronological order:

May 2021

Flyer inviting Lido residents (not St. Armands residents) to a community meeting to discuss the Carousel, to be held at the St. Armands Lutheran Church.  Fortunately, St. Armands residents were eventually informed about the meeting one week before and several were able to attend.

September - October, 2021

2021 Member Survey Results

92% oppose a Carousel--along with additional attractions such as swings, see-saws, an electric train, and selfie-booths--all in a fenced-off area located in the St. Armands Circle Park (n=125)

82% oppose a stand-alone Carousel (without any of the additional attractions) in St. Armands Circle Park (n=125)

February 7, 2022

The Carousel promoters went in front of the City Commission during open forum to request that they be placed on an upcoming agenda.

February 17, 2022

This coming Tuesday, February 22, 2022, beginning 9am, the City Commission will discuss allowing a carousel at the St. Armands Circle Park (agenda item XII.1 New Business). This was added to the agenda today, meaning the public was given a whopping five days notice that this would be on the agenda.

February 22, 2022

The City Commission voted 4-1 to have City staff work with the Carousel promoter to determine the viability of installing a permanent carousel at St. Armands Circle Park.

This after many residents emailed the Commissioners to voice their concerns, after a few residents spoke at the meeting, and after the Residents Association, the Merchants Association, and Tom Leonard, the owner of Shore Restaurant and member of the St. Armands BID, all voiced their concerns.

    • Link to video:  click here
    • The carousel agenda item begins at 7:40:33 (fast forward to 7 hours, 40 minutes, 33 seconds)
    • Public comments begin at 7:46:20 (fast forward to 7 hours, 46 minutes, 20 seconds)
    • The vote to move the carousel forward happens at 8:35:37 (fast forward to 8 hours, 35 minutes, 37 seconds)

February 23, 2022

March 21, 2022

Tom Leonard of Shore presents updated amphitheater concept to City Commission.  Commission votes 5-0 to instruct City Staff to determine the viability of this concept at the St. Armands Circle Park.  A large number St. Armands residents spoke against the carousel and in favor of the amphitheater or in leaving the park alone.

      • Link to video:  click here
      • This agenda items starts at 7:36:25 (fast forward to 7 hours, 36 minutes, 25 seconds)
      • Public input starts at 7:45:15 (7 hours, 45 minutes, 15 seconds)
      • The vote to instruct staff to investigate is at 8:24:10 (8 hours, 24 minutes, 10 seconds)

It was discussed during the meeting that the Circle Park is in the National Historic Registry and that it's therefore possible that nothing may be installed there:

May 31, 2022

City Staff determination that any development in the Circle Park is not feasible:  click here

August 29, 2022

Letter from Association President to City regarding rumors of temporary Carousel being considered for the St. Armands Circle Park:  click here

September 13, 2022

Letter from Association President to City Commissioners and City Manager opposing carnival rides in the St. Armands Circle Park:  click here

September 19, 2022

At the Regular City Commission Meeting, Tom Leonard, acting as an individual in partnership with RIDE Entertainment and not as a representative of the BID, presented his personal idea for a paid, winter carnival at Circle Park. This, after he spoke against a carousel (and in favor of a more suitable amphitheater) back in March!

Rachel Burns, executive director of the St. Armands Circle (Merchants) Association, questioned why the City would want to replace the free holiday celebration that has always been done here with for-profit rides, and criticized the lack of any business plan, their request for preferential treatment from the City, etc... 

      • Link to City Commission Meeting video:  click here
      • For Tom Leonard's remarks, fast forward to 0:42:45 (0hours, 42 minutes, 45 seconds)
      • For Rachel Burns' remarks, fast forward to 0:45:00 (0 hours, 45 minutes, 0 seconds)
      • For City Commission discussion, which didn't happen until the end of a very long meeting, fast forward to 10:31:35 (10 hours, 31 minutes, 35 seconds).  Note: Discussion ends at 10:36:00 with direction given to staff to investigate and report back at the next City Commission Meeting on October 3rd.

September 21, 2022

October 3, 2022

At this Regular City Commission Meeting, the "fix" appeared to be in: applicants Tom Leonard (Shore) and Jeff Koffman (RIDE Entertainment) finally got a carousel approved for Circle Park.  They didn't even bother making a public presentation of their plans, having submitted it to the Commission ahead of time (click here to view).  It appeared to many that the applicants had already met with the Commissioners ahead of time and did not also feel the need to make a presentation to the public.

      • Link to video of the meeting: click here
      • For the opening "presentation", fast forward to 7:25:45 (7 hours, 25 minutes, 45 seconds)
      • For public comment (3 minutes per person), fast forward to 7:30:15 (7 hours, 30 minutes, 15 seconds). 
          •  There is a lot of public controversy surrounding this proposal and objections were raised by the residents association, merchants association, and the pastor of the neighborhood church.
          • Lido resident and former City Commission candidate Jerry Wells points finger and yells at St. Armands Merchants Association Executive Director and refers to residents who oppose the festival, or challenge its legality, as angry, miserable people who hate Christmas
      • For the City Commission discussion, fast forward to 8:05:05 (8 hours, 5 minutes, 5 seconds)
      • For the 4-1 vote to approve this, fast forward to 8:48:45 (8 hours, 48 minutes, 45 seconds)

October 7, 2022

October 16, 2022

Jeff Koffman of RIDE Entertainment photographed with wife of Jerry Wells (see October 3, 2022, above) at the City of Sarasota Mayor's Ball benefiting the Sarasota City Foundation involving then-Mayor Erik Arroyo.  Invitees are believed to include donors to City Commissioners. (link to article)

October 17, 2022

October 18, 2022

Letter from Longboat Key to City of Sarasota and FDOT regarding concern about traffic resulting from the festival/carnival:  click here

October-November 2022

2022 Member Survey Results

84% are extremely or very concerned about the impact on traffic through and around St. Armands due to the recently approved winter festival. (n=147)

80% do not think it is a good idea for Nik Wallenda, the famed local tight-rope walker, to produce a Circus Show at the St. Armands Circle Park each year in December. (n=147)

November 9, 2022

Six week winter festival causes cancellation of the St. Armands Holiday Night of Lights, a 43-year tradition.

Observer Article:  St. Armands annual Holiday Night of Lights cancelled

November 29, 2022

City Attorney issues this memo explaining why the City can't permanently take away a public right-of-way. (The Circle Park is a public right-of-way). The memo says that the continued private use of public land would be illegal.

December 2, 2022

December 5, 2022

Feedback submitted by festival attendee:

I am so angry with the winter wonderland set up. First of all to pay 10.00 a person including kids is ridiculous. My granddaughter is 3 years and i had to pay 10 each for me, my husband and a 3 year old. Either the adults pay or the kids pay. Let's face it. The adults are ONLY there to bring the kids.

Second of all, the employees working are the nastiest. I was yelled at 2 different times by 2 different employees. What kind of Christmas spirit is that. I just love being reprimanded as an adult (said no adult ever!!!) I will NEVER spend money there again. The whole experience ruined my day/night and I refused to stay on St Armands circle to shop and eat after that experience. This is public property and you are charging me 35.00 for 2 adults and 1 3 year old??? This is unacceptable!!!!

December 6-7, 2022

Festival now appears to be closed on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  We assume this is due to a poorly chosen location, bad value proposition, ineffective marketing, low turnout, etc...

December 10, 2022

Visually impaired individual with walking stick forced to dodge trackless train on public sidewalk:

As the train passes, we we see that a second individual with a walking stick or cane had to also dodge the train:

In this picture, a couple with a young child has move out of the way of the electric train coming directly at them on a public sidewalk:

December 15, 2022

Another event producer sent this letter of complaint about the winter festival to City Attorney.

January 3, 2023

At this Regular City Commission Meeting, Jeff Koffman of RIDE Entertainment claimed that the winter festival was a success and asked the City to approve it again for next year.  This despite the festival often observed with few customers and not opening on weekdays!  At the end of his remarks, Mr. Koffman says:  "Imagine what we could do with a whole year of planning."

    • Link to video of the meeting: click here
    • Fast forward to 41:00 (0 hours, 41 minutes, 0 seconds)

January 10, 2023

Just one week after Mr. Koffman's remarks, the City experienced what can happen when there is a traffic issue on the barrier islands.  It wasn't a remarkable day, and it wasn't a particularly busy time of year, but traffic was essentially at a standstill for hours, backed up from downtown to past the Longboat Publix when roundabout construction required the closure of all but one eastbound lane.  Apparently, the phones at City Hall and the police department were ringing off the hook with people calling in to complain.  Observer Article:  Surprise roundabout lane closure outrages Sarasota, Longboat  Residents are concerned about anything that can have a significant impact on traffic through St. Armands, including a heavily marketed, six week long winter festival.

January 23, 2023

St. Armands Circle Park continues to be unusable by the public for three weeks after the now defunct winter festival.  It is roped off with yellow security tape, and there is standing water after rainfall where the ice rink and carousel had been situated.  The public has now been denied access to this City Park and public right-of-way for nine weeks, and the water and soggy ground may cause problems for this coming weekend's art festival.

January 25, 2023

Tom Leonard has asked Mayor Battie to put the winter festival back on the City Commission Agenda for February 6.  We've asked for this to be postponed two weeks to February 21 at which time the City will also be discussing another private commercial use of a public right-of-way:  parklets for restaurant dining.  We've also learned that the City Manager and at least one City Commissioner may not be present for all or part of the February 6 meeting.  We don't yet know if our request will be respected.

January 27, 2023

Feedback from a St. Armands Resident:

One evening we were eating at Cafe L'Europe where they were trying to play Christmas music. It was horrible as they were competing with loud music in the park from a “non Christmas rock band”. Another few evenings we were eating outdoors at Crab and Fin where the piano player couldn’t play because of the same thing, along with some drummer that was banging away on the sidewalk not far away! As pretty as the lights were, it looked and sounded like a carnival on our beautiful Circle!

February 1, 2023

City Attorney provides this memo to the City Commission about the related issue of allowing outdoor dining in City parking spaces ("parklets").  A key sentence in this memo refers to other municipalities who have done this, and it reads:

These ordinances also contain provisions to limit the amount of space devoted to parklets so as to preserve the argument that the primary use of the right of way still serves the purpose it was dedicated to serve.

Shouldn't the amount of space made available for a winter festival in the central island of the St. Armands Circle roundabout also be limited so that the primary use of the right of way still serves as a City park?

February 6, 2023

At a Regular City Commission Meeting, Tom Leonard and Jeff Koffman asked to do the winter festival again, but this time using more of the park than before, with additional attractions including a Ferris wheel, and with additional time to promote the festival.  The Commission voted to postpone renewing the winter festival until staff reported back to them with regard to its impact on City services, and on traffic and parking, etc...

      • Link to VIDEO:  click here
      • Link to back-up material (pictures, etc..):  click here
      • Beginning of Winter Festival Agenda Item (IX.4): fast forward to 1:48:25 (1 hour, 48 minutes, 25 seconds) which is the initial presentation by applicants Tom Leonard and Jeff Koffman
      • Public Input Begins: fast forward to 1:54:00 (1 hour, 54 minutes, 0 seconds)
      • Public Input ends and Commissioner Questions and Discussion Begin: fast forward to 2:51:10
      • Motion to Postpone Vote on Renewing Festival until City Staff makes report: fast forward to 3:29:50
      • Final 5-0 Vote to Postpone: 3:32:35 (that's about 1 hour and 45 minutes total time for this agenda item)

March 16, 2023

Email correspondence between City Manager and Director of Parks and Recreation about the use of parks for events and the resulting damage to parks:  click here

March 27, 2023

Now, three months after the end of the winter festival, the St. Armands Circle Park has been sodded but remains unusable for public access (note the yellow security tape).  The section of sidewalk damaged by the carousel remains unrepaired.

April 17, 2023

The yellow security tape has finally been removed.  But, after heavy rains overnight, massive flooding occurred at the St. Armands Circle Park.  It is believed that the heavy attractions (carousel and ice rink) compacted the land.  It has been reported that this section of the park never used to flood.

May 10, 2023

Commissioner Erik Arroyo's Sarasota City Foundation being investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement regarding the timing of donations. (link to article)

See October 16, 2022 above regarding Jeff Koffman of RIDE Entertainment's involvement with this foundation. (link to article)

June 7, 2023

June 15, 2023

More news about Commissioner Erik Arroyo's Sarasota City Foundation being investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement regarding the timing of donations. (link to article)

See October 16, 2022 above regarding Jeff Koffman of RIDE Entertainment's involvement with this foundation. (link to article)

October-November 2023

2023 Annual Member Survey

Do you feel that the Winter Festival was a legal and appropriate use of the St. Armands Circle Park? (i.e. should it have been allowed in the first place?)  (n=152)

7% Yes - It was a legal and appropriate use

77% No - It was not

16% Don't know / not sure

Would you like to see the Winter Festival repeat in a similar format in future years?  (n=152)

8% Yes - I would like it to repeat

81% No - I would not

11% Don't know / not sure

July 14, 2023

Article about winter festival promoter Jeff Koffman and his recent purchase of Sarasota bagel shops:  link

August 5, 2023

Community outcry over new owners ruining Sarasota bagel shops:  link

The Nextdoor post begins with:  "Worst thing to ever happen in Sarasota"

October 3, 2023

Another social media post complaining about Mr. Koffman's changes to another Sarasota bagel shop:  link

November 8, 2023

Mr. Koffman renames his bagel shops:  link

December 17, 2023

At 2:30am this morning, the Sarasota Police Department issued an alert on their Facebook page, stating that roadways on St Armands Circle are underwater, and that the area is closed.  St. Armands Circle Park was flooded by this event, demonstrating that it is not an appropriate site for heavy or long-term usage.

February 5, 2024

Rain between just 8:30-10:30am caused serious flooding in Circle Park, with the worst flooding appearing to be in those areas where the carousel and ice rink were located.

St. Armands Residents Association

P.O. Box 2482, Sarasota, FL  34230

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