Ahearn-Koch Seeks Community-Commerce Balance



Editor's Note: This is the second in an eight-part weekly series profiling candidates for Sarasota City Commission.

After cutting her local political teeth fighting multiple development proposals on a Whitaker Bayou property near her neighborhood, Jennifer Ahearn-Koch sounds surprisingly excited about the upcoming opening of The Strand, a new project finally breaking ground on land near Tahiti Park. But after working with developer Jim Bridges on a plan there, she feels like years of fighting for just the right project at the site are finally paying off. “It’s a huge successor a neighborhood to to go and support a project where there had been, for 15 years, a very contentious and divisive situation,” she says.

The balance of business and neighborhood needs being met also underlines the central message of Ahearn-Koch’s current candidacy for Sarasota City Commission. One of eight candidates running for two at-large seats on the board, she hopes voters see her background as an asset for a city rich in commerce and culture but also ripe with concern about overdevelopment. Ahearn’s own background involved plenty of work both in neighborhood politics—she helped found the Tahiti Park Neighborhood Association—but in doing public relations and marketing work for area businesses.

Perhaps her best known work was as public relations director for the Mattison’s restaurant group. She notes she came into that organization shortly after the opening of Mattison’s City Grille in Downtown Sarasota. “Mattison’s was a huge key to creating a vibrant Downtown Sarasota,” she says. And she believes Sarasota stands above other local communities in the region because of its commercial and cultural treasures. Businesses need people to frequent them, and that won’t happen if a community doesn’t boast healthy and attractive neighborhoods, she says. Likewise, if you only have neighborhoods you develop a community like Lakewood Ranch where people drive 20 minutes to basic amenities like a grocery store, she says. “When it all fits together and functions together, that’s how you make Sarasota the stable and charming place we all want it to be,” she says. “There is a balance there. We are business. We are neighborhoods. We are schools. We are Asolo Theater and we are Art Center Sarasota.”

Her civic activism led to a long stint on the Sarasota Planning Board, and she remains involved in city issues. Most recently, she has worked on a canopy ordinance in Sarasota. Combined with a background as someone who grew up in and raised her own children in Sarasota, she believes her civic and private sector involvement helps combine the best assets of all other candidates in the race.

A citywide election is scheduled for March 14, with a runoff likely on May 9. Other candidates include: former Sarasota Mayor Fredd “Glossie” Atkins; former prosecutor Hagen Brody; incumbent Commissioner Susan Chapman; Planning Board member Patrick Gannon; Gulf Business Systems owner Martin Hyde; pedestrian safety advocate Mikael Sandstrom; and former stockbroker Matt Sperling. 

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