A concrete half-open space under the city-owned Palm Avenue parking garage is being converted into a restaurant named Louies Modern and The Francis, a catering/banquet facility.
An entrepreneurial family of local restaurateurs, the Seidenstickers, are spending several million dollars to transform the space, which includes spending $1.6 million to buy the 11,000 square feet space from the city, in a 50-50 partnership with local entrepreneur Jesse Biter.
The restaurant and banquet space will open sometime in February, said Steve Seidensticker.
“All the walls will be up next week,” Seidensticker said. “We are really moving along.”
That is several months later than originally anticipated, yet the Seidenstickers hope the completed restaurant-and-banquet space will spur growth and energy for the stretch of Palm Avenue north of Main Street, where there are few businesses and less pedestrian traffic.
The restaurant comes ahead of a proposed city-private hotel project slated for vacant land just north of the parking garage.
“We are trying to see into the future, with Palm Avenue growing,” Seidensticker said.
Since 2008, the Seidenstickers, Steve and his sons, Joe and Patrick, along with partner Jeff Greco, have run Libby’s Café + Bar, a popular restaurant and bar in the Hillview neighborhood.
The new Louies Modern restaurant will feature outdoor dining, two bars and serve modern-American cuisine.
“It is our vision for a cool, sleek, modern restaurant,” said Steve Seidensticker.
When people walk out of the parking garage’s elevator, they will see some elements of the design features of the restaurant, including waterfalls and a small café area where people can grab a coffee or lunch and eat outside on a patio area.
The new restaurant and banquet hall will staff up to 150 employees.
Although the Seidenstickers are dreaming big about the possibilities on Palm, one element they emphasize is that Louie’s Modern and The Francis won’t be another Libby’s. Louies Modern is named after Joe and Patrick Seidensticker’s grandfather — the Louie to the Libby behind Libby’s.
“It’s not Libby’s Two,” Patrick Seidensticker said. “It’s not Libby’s Junior. It’s a different concept, not only in food, but in service.”
“It’s been such a cool project,” said Joe Seidensticker.
The family has been working closely with the chef to keep menu costs down, Joe Seidensticker added.
Earlier this week, contractors were completing plumbing and air-conditioning work inside the shell and preparing to install the floors.
The banquet space will meet a demand downtown for meeting space, especially after the loss of a high-end event location when the University Club, atop the Bank of America building on Main Street, shut down in 2009.
Sarasota economic development officials and business leaders have long lamented the fact that downtown Sarasota doesn’t have a convention center. Multiple efforts, public, private and public-private, have all faltered going back years.
At a total of 13,500 square feet, the space isn’t a full-fledged convention center. But the Seidenstickers insist it will be a place to hold weddings, parties, conferences and speakers, in addition to the restaurant operations.
“We are bringing people in, rather than just having people walk up,” said Patrick Seidensticker. “This will be a boon for Sarasota.”
Several companies have already voiced interest in holding conferences or meetings in the space, Seidensticker said.
Although some downtown advocates have said they would have preferred to see retail located in the space under the garage, the Seidenstickers are confident that the immediate economic impact of the restaurant and banquet hall will soon win over any detractors.
“There will be 300 people pouring out after a wedding, and the majority of them will go out and spend their money somewhere else,” said Joe Seidensticker.
The last thing this prominent location needs is another Gucci store, added Patrick Seidensticker.
— Mark Gordon contributed to this article.