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Sarasota No. 31 on List of Most Livable Cities

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most-livable-citiesTropical island ambiance with the comforts of craft beer and Fine Art helped land the City of Sarasota on the "2016 Top 100 Best Places to Live."

Most Livable Cities - Sarasota showed up as No. 31 on the list along with places like Boulder, Colorado; Santa Rosa, California; and Madison, Wisconsin.

The other Florida entries on the list, published this week by www.Livability.com, were Boca Raton, at No. 59, and Miami Beach, at No. 79.

"Overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, just south of Tampa Bay, Sarasota includes a string of eight islands that draw thousands of tourists," Livability. com said.

The report cites the fact that locals enjoy year-round access to beautiful beaches, a multitude of golf courses and a thriving downtown.

"The Sarasota Opera and Florida Studio Theater anchor the city's arts and culture scene, while craft breweries, restaurants, shops and galleries provide many entertainment options," the Livability study states.

Locals tend to roll their eyes at lists like this, because Sarasota shows up on so many of them. Siesta Beach shows up with regularity as the best or one of the best beaches in the country, thanks to Dr. Beach. Earlier this summer, both Kiplinger's Personal Finance and NerdWallet placed Sarasota at or near the top of their own lists of great places to retire.

But for those in the business of winning new converts to the Southwest Florida, lists like this are manna from heaven.

"We love the list, especially at this time of the year, because we are getting ready for the season, which comes earlier and earlier every year," said Pauline Bennett, who manages the Coldwell Banker real estate downtown Sarasota office, which has 90 agents. "Lists like these helps keep us top of mind."

Realtors will use the list as a reason to call or email a client who is on the fence, particularly if the client's northern city also is on the list, Bennett added.

"Excelling as a livable city is what will help us attract and retain the quality workforce we need to support innovative, high-growth companies," said Mark Huey, president of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County. "This is a recognition that we are on the right track in being that kind of magnet for talent."

The top communities on Livability.com's list were, in order: Rochester, Minnesota; Bellevue, Washington; Madison, Wisconsin; Santa Barbara, California; Boulder, Colorado; Palo Alto, California; Bismarck, North Dakota; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Iowa City, Iowa; and Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The Survey

The site said that more than 2,100 cities (with populations from 20,000 to 350,000) were evaluated in the study. Researchers analyzed more than 40 data points that were then grouped into eight categories: economics, housing, amenities, infrastructure, demographics, social and civic capital, education and health care, Livability. com said.

The eight scores were weighted based on an exclusive survey conducted for Livability.com by Ipsos Public Affairs, a global market research firm. Respondents were asked about factors that make their communities better places to live, as well as the factors they would consider in selecting another city.

"Sources included the best public and private data available from organizations like the U.S. Census Bureau, Walk Score, GreatSchools.com and Esri," Livability.com said.

Beer factor

Sarasota's emerging craft beer brewing scene also made it into the Livability. com recipe for success. Two craft brewers now operate in Sarasota, another two in Bradenton and more are in the works.

"A lot of people are coming from areas where they are used to having craft breweries around, like Michigan and Ohio," said Jeremy Jorger, owner of JDub's Brewing Co., situated near the recently renovated Ed Smith Stadium, where visitors and locals show up for Baltimore Orioles spring training.

The Orioles tout Sarasota with roughly $1 million worth of free advertising per year, including spots on their Mid-Atlantic Sports Network game broadcasts.

"You could be watching a game and all of a sudden, Main Street Sarasota is on," said David Rovine, the Orioles Sarasota vice president.

Art and Activities

"What makes an area interesting and dynamic is the mixture of activities that it offers to you," Rovine said. "If you have a little bit of everything -- and I think Sarasota has a more than a little of everything, it makes it a great city to live in."

Starting with the creation of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in the 1920s, Sarasota has long offered visitors and locals a deeper-than-usual dive into the arts scene.

"Now that the economy is better, people are buying art, so the galleries are flourishing again and new galleries are popping up all the time," said Lisa Berger, executive director of the Art Center Sarasota, which will celebrate its 90th anniversary next year. Her organization maintains four galleries, including one for juried exhibitions. "You can come once a month and see all new work," Berger said.

Herald Tribune Sept 14, 2015