City Manager Tom Barwin has called a public-private project on a parcel of city-owned land a “catalyst project” for the Rosemary District.
Mayor Suzanne Atwell recently echoed the sentiment, saying a mixed-use project at 1440 Blvd. of the Arts would have an economic ripple spreading across the entire district.
The city owns 1.1 acres, in two adjacent parcels, in the heart of the Rosemary District, which was once poised for revitalization before the recession and could once again be poised for change.
The city hosted a meeting Dec. 11, to get input from residents and business owners on what they’d like to see on the land. At the same meeting, business and property owners discussed the possibility of doubling the residential density limits throughout the district to attract redevelopment.
If the attention on the Rosemary District does not fade in 2013, some big changes could be coming.
“Inevitably, it will tie into downtown,” Atwell said about the Rosemary District in an interview with the Sarasota Observer.
A developer could be tapped for a mixed-use project on Boulevard of the Arts, if all goes as planned, as early as the end of 2013 or early 2014, Barwin said.
Current Downtown Edge zoning allows about 27 residential units on the city-owned land, but that could change if the proposed density change is approved.
The Rosemary Community Garden was located on the property, between Central and Lemon avenues, until the garden was moved in 2007 to make way for an affordable housing project. That project was halted by the recession, and the property has remained vacant for several years.
The rectangular property is just slightly under three-quarters of an acre, and another adjacent parcel, currently used for public parking, is just more than one-third of an acre.
A project could include residential units and commercial or café space. It is likely that some public parking would be included, also.
“Part of the role of city government is to do what we can do to contribute to the future and success of a neighborhood or business district,” Barwin said. “When you walk the Rosemary District, to me, it is pretty clear … that this is an area that has been improving, and I see some good economic development opportunities.”
The first important step in the new year is to continue to get input from residents and business and property owners on possibilities for a city-developer project, Barwin said.
“Right now we are getting some good ideas for best possible use, so when (the city) solicits proposals (from developers), we have an idea of what neighborhood instincts are,” Barwin said.
One challenge for any efforts to tie Rosemary to the rest of downtown, as the mayor suggested, is pedestrian access across Fruitville Road.
The district is bound by Fruitville Road to the south and 10th Street to the north; it stretches from U.S. 41 to Orange Avenue.
At the Dec. 11 meeting, Sarasota Chief Planner Ryan Chapdelain said an improved crosswalk across Fruitville Road is one project that could help link a revitalized Rosemary to the rest of downtown. But funding has not been secured for such a project.
Homebuilder Devin Rutkowski, who plans to open a blues restaurant in Rosemary, sees potential for growth in the area — and the land at 1440 Blvd. of the Arts is a key piece of the puzzle for the entire area that advocates are now calling NOF, North of Fruitville.
The name is meant to change perceptions that Rosemary is a rundown, higher-crime area.
“The opportunity is staring us in the face,” Rutkowski told commissioners in October about revitalization there.
A kick start
The city will set up a competitive process during the next few months, so that interested developers will be able to pitch their projects to city officials.
One developer has already met with Barwin to say she is interested in submitting a proposal. Mindy Kauffman, who owns the property known as the old “Boxing Club” directly to the east of the city-owned land, met with Barwin in October.
Kauffman runs Sarasota Commercial Management Inc. and is the daughter of longtime local developer Dr. Mark Kauffman.
Chris Gallagher, a senior designer with Jonathan Parks Architect who represents Mindy Kauffman, said she is interested in developing a mixed-use project that would include a residential aspect.
“She owns three parcels next to the property,” Gallagher said. “It is a key corner.”
John Hermansen, a contractor who purchased and renovated a building on Fifth Street, envisions something with retail on the first floor and space above for studios and some residential units to create a live-work setting, as one viable option.
Hermansen is “bullish” on the neighborhood, even though the recession has hit the area with business closings and stalled developments.
“This is one of those fringe areas of downtown that has been hit a little, but it is coming back,” Hermansen said in an October interview with the Sarasota Observer.
City officials are also working on a plan to add on-street parking throughout the district. Rosemary advocates say the parking is needed to meet anticipated future demand of new businesses and residences.
“We are exploring where to add some on-street parking,” Barwin said.
For the first time in six or seven years, it appears that there will be come economic activity happening in 2013, and Rosemary could become an area of development and business expansion, Barwin says.
“We want to be ready,” the city manager says. “That’s an important area.”
If the approach to a city-developer project works out on Boulevard of the Arts, Barwin said he would be interested in trying another “catalyst project.” That project would be a vacant parcel of land in Newtown known as the Marian Anderson site, where a recent effort to attract a Walmart failed. Whoever develops the “brownfield” site would have to clean the land that has been contaminated by pollutants and hazardous waste.
Contact Roger Drouin at [email protected].