Like most communities, Venice has its own list of hot topics. Here are a few you’re likely to hear people talking about at coffee shops, football games and even on the beach.
Hospital Woes—and Wars
Founded by four local doctors in 1951, Venice’s hospital was for decades a source of community pride. But in recent years, as ownership switched from locally controlled to nonprofit to for-profit, that pride has turned to controversy.
Now called Venice Regional Bayfront Health and owned by Community Health Systems of Tennessee, the massive hospital on Venice island has been plagued by problems, including raw sewage leaks and high infection rates. In 2016, it received a “D” in the national nonprofit Hospital Safety Score ratings.
The problems prompted publicly owned Sarasota Memorial Hospital to seek state approval to build a hospital in Venice, a plan supported by several Venice leaders. The state rejected the plan, but Sarasota Memorial has appealed.
And this summer, Community Health announced its plans to build a new hospital, probably off the island of Venice, pending necessary approvals.
The Library, Chapter Two
For 51 years, the Venice Public Library was a cultural cornerstone on Venice island. Part of a “cultural campus” that also included the art center, community center and historical archives, the library and its books, periodicals, computers and meeting rooms attracted thousands of patrons.
But in January, county officials shocked the community by announcing that the library would be razed because of mold problems. That set off an outcry among Venetians who feared the library would not be rebuilt or would move off the island. Those fears were allayed in June when the county voted to build a new library on the current Nokomis Avenue site. Meanwhile, a temporary facility has opened in the Hamilton Building near Venice Theatre. Construction of the new library will be a major topic in coming months.
Get a Room
It’s been more than 20 years since a hotel was built on Venice island. But with tourism breaking records every year, the push is on to add accommodations.
Three hotel projects have been proposed in recent months: one on the site of the former circus arena at the island’s southern gateway; another on the site of the former Classics Steakhouse near the entrance to downtown; and a third on the site of the current U.S. Post Office at Venice Avenue and Harbor Drive.
Those plans are likely to generate plenty of discussion before the city council.
Plans for thousands of new homes in formerly rural areas of east and north Venice are raising questions about whether the area has adequate roads, schools and other infrastructure. South Sarasota County’s population has grown from 120,446 in 2000 to 178,268 in 2016. Demographers project it will reach nearly 200,000 in the next five years.
On Venice island, the trend is redevelopment, with block-style ranch homes from the 1950s and 1960s being razed and replaced by upscale multi-story homes and condos.
For years, Mayor John Holic has urged Venice to take advantage of low interest rates to issue bonds to rebuild infrastructure.
The city is putting two bond issues before voters: One, for up to $18 million, would repair 70 miles of roads. Another, for up to $22 million, would finance construction of a new police building. However the vote turns out, expect continued debate.