Christophe Coutelle stands near a crate atop the dusty, barren floor, where a modern steel-and-concrete counter will soon be built. The counter will be a central feature in Coutelle’s new French café and bakery, Lolita Tartine, set to open in June in the Rosemary District.
Coutelle has high hopes for the small commercial area six blocks north of Main Street, and that’s why he and his wife, Gerladine, are opening the café at 1419 Fifth St.
“It’s going to bloom,” Coutelle said about the Rosemary District.
Even as Derek’s Culinary Casual announced it planned to relocate from the Rosemary District to Bradenton, the area is showing some signs that it is still open for business. In addition to the Lolita Tartine, the Blue Rooster, a live-music venue and restaurant, opened in January on Fourth Street, and an investor purchased 6.5 acres April 1, with plans to build rental units along the northern edge of the district.
In an email March 27 to the restaurant’s customer base, Derek’s owner/executive chef Derek Barnes cited a lack of progress in the Rosemary District — which has long been slated for redevelopment but saw businesses close or leave the area as a result of the downturn in the economy — as a main impetus for relocating.
But Coutelle sees things differently in the north-of-downtown district. He thinks positive changes are coming, albeit slowly.
“I think it is really the future,” Coutelle said.
A recent city project to add 100 on-street parking spaces is one of the positive changes, Coutelle said.
As more businesses like Lolita Tartine and the Blue Rooster open, the district’s proximity to Main Street, combined with the availability of parking, will make the area a draw for residents and tourists, Coutelle said.
Improvements will happen “block by block,” Coutelle said.
Once open, the café on Fifth Street will offer fresh bread, sandwiches and prepared gourmet meals. Coutelle, who owns the downtown C’est La Vie with his wife, wants Lolita Tartine to be a place where working professionals and artists from the area can grab a quick breakfast or lunch or gather for longer.
Several properties have changed ownership recently in the district, a sign that developers are keen on building in Rosemary — including residential and mixed-use projects — said commercial real-estate broker John Harshman.
“I would think it is safe to say within two years, there will be some more residential in the Rosemary District,” Harshman said. Rosalyne Holdings LLC, is one of the investors interested in Rosemary.
On April 1, the company purchased a 6.5-acre parcel of land for $4.5 million.
Rosalyne is considering the development of residential rental apartments on the site, which runs along Cocoanut Avenue, between Boulevard of the Arts and 10th Street. Rosalyne Holdings is part of Longboat Enterprises LLC, a venture of Bruce Weiner, a Sarasota resident who also owns Florida Classic Car Storage on Central Avenue. Harshman represented the buyer in the sale.
Sarasota’s growth north is a natural progression, said real-estate broker Ian Black, whose office is located in the Rosemary District.
“I’ve said this for years,” Black said. “Sarasota can’t go west, and it can’t really go east, and it can’t go south. There is only one place it can go.”