For nearly two years, developer Mark Kauffman has been interested in pursuing an ambitious undertaking in the heart of the Rosemary District. He wants to incorporate private- and city-owned property for a mixed-use project, but he’s had to wait as the city has pursued its own path for the land he coveted.
In December 2012, the city held a public meeting to gather resident input on two Rosemary District properties, which leaders hoped might house a catalyst project for the underdeveloped area. Since then, the city and Rosemary residents have also waited, with the area progressing more slowly than many originally hoped, City Manager Tom Barwin admits.
On Monday, Kauffman and the rest of his development team presented its vision to the Sarasota City Commission, hopeful that the proposal could bring an end to both groups’ waiting games.
The project, called Rosemary Square, would feature a variety of uses along Boulevard of the Arts, Fifth Street and Central Avenue. Plans call for 40 residential units, 34,000 square feet of commercial, office and fine-arts space, 10,000 square feet for a boutique movie or performing-arts theater and a 7,000-square-foot public town square.
The group was the only respondent to the city’s invitation to negotiate, issued last summer for the city-owned property at 1440 Boulevard of the Arts and 1433 Fifth St. Kauffman said the group wanted to do something spectacular to jump-start development in the area, knowing that they were taking a chance.
“This is really a risky venture,” Kauffman said. “This is not Palm Avenue. This is not downtown. We’re looking to be the seminal project here to stimulate the entire district.”
Kauffman has worked alongside his daughter, real estate broker Mindy Kauffman, who owns the former Boxing Club building to the west of the property. The Kauffmans and architect Jonathan Parks are the principal leaders of the Rosemary Square group.
Parks said the goal of the development was to “bring arts to Boulevard of the Arts.” In addition to the commercial fine-arts space and the theater, the group said the apartments would cater to people working in the arts. Mark Kauffman said the units would probably range from 500 to 1,100 square feet, and the rental prices would be market rates.
The development group is working with two potential tenants of the project’s theater space. The Sarasota Film Festival has expressed an interest in running a movie theater showing art and foreign films, and the Sarasota County Arts and Cultural Alliance indicated it could use the space as a performance theater to rent out to other organizations.
Parks, whose offices are located in the Rosemary District, said the area is not only underdeveloped, but underserved by the city. He said the area currently lacks the utility services necessary for a project as large as Rosemary Square. If the project were in place, he hopes the city would be able to provide a higher level of service — not only for the one development, but for the entire area.
“I feel like this part (north) of Fruitville is like a stepchild,” Parks said. “I talk to other people in the area, and they have kind of the same feeling.”
The group is confident that, once its project is completed, the surrounding vacant properties will be developed shortly after. Kauffman said a similar phenomenon occurred after the Hollywood 20 movie theater came to the eastern end of Main Street — another project he was behind.
“There’s just no doubt about it,” Kauffman said about redevelopment. “If we get ours started, all the other vacant land will get filled up. I think something has to be the stimulus to get that started.”
On Monday, the Sarasota City Commission directed staff to finalize a purchase and sale agreement with the Rosemary Square group for commission approval. The commission expressed an interest in the overall intent of the project, but had some questions about specifics.
Commissioner Paul Caragiulo asked about the project’s use of a north/south alley that neighboring property currently uses for parking. City staff indicated it had tried to work with the neighboring property owners about coming to an agreement and adding parking elsewhere, and that it was optimistic about achieving a solution acceptable to all parties.
Vice Mayor Susan Chapman questioned the amount in monetary credits the development could claim from the city for providing parking spaces and other public benefits, which exceeded the sale price of $1,054,500. Kaufmann admitted that Rosemary Square might not maximize the city’s profit from the sale of the land, but said commission approval of the project would represent a different type of investment.
“If your desire is just to cash out and get as much as you can on this land, you should do it,” Kauffman said. “If you have the vision of what this can do for the greater area there — and the profit you will make from all the other land going up in value — that’s what you should do.”
If the City Commission approves the final purchase and sale agreement, staff will work with the Rosemary Square group on a redevelopment agreement that memorializes the details of the project. Final approval and construction are still a long way away, but Kauffman believes the project would be worth the wait.
“I just think it’s time for that to happen,” Kauffman said. “I think we can fill a niche there.”
Contact David Conway at [email protected]