The letters poured in after Brian Kenney, principal of the Boston-based Juliani Kenney Investment Capital LLC, confirmed his company’s plans in October to buy and redevelop Whitney Beach Plaza. Some of the 30 or so letters sent to Kenney’s new office in the plaza included suggestions. Writers wanted everything from a women’s gym to a bank to a Chinese restaurant.
But, according to Kenney, there was a common thread. All of the residents he heard from were enthusiastic about the company’s plans to buy and redevelop the 35,000-square-foot plaza.
“This is completely going to change and revitalize the northern part of the island,” Kenney said. “People are excited about this.”
Now, Kenney is a step closer toward making that vision of revitalization a reality. His company purchased the plaza and its liquid assets, including the liquor license held by former owner Andrew Hlywa, for $3.7 million Friday, Dec. 17.
The commercial short sale has been in the works for four months, although the plaza has been for sale since early 2009, originally listed at $6.5 million by Tina Rudek, of Engel & Völkers Longboat Key/Anna Maria Island. Frontier Capital Group Ltd. initiated foreclosure proceedings in February, according to Manatee County court records. When Rudek reduced the price to $3.5 million, Kenney’s company became interested in the plaza.
Kenney plans to spend the next 60 to 90 days working aggressively to lease space in the plaza, which is currently 85% vacant, to a mix of local and national retail tenants. During that time, he hopes to secure an anchor tenant for the 12,000-square-foot space formerly occupied by The Market and, most recently, Whitney Beach Deli and Wines. Although he is currently in talks with a national retailer, he is open to leasing the anchor spot to “any business with good credit that will draw traffic.”
“We hope to have the place completely stabilized by September,” said Kenney, who estimates that the plaza would be stabilized at 70% occupancy. “By this time next year, we hope it’s full.”
Kenney said that many residents’ suggestions echo his own thoughts on the plaza. He agrees that it could use additional restaurants and a coffee shop. He would like to see a local bar, similar to Tiny’s of Longboat Key, which closed March 31.
Kenney estimates that his company will invest $2 million in the plaza during the next year. Although some repairs, such as fixing the hole in the roof of the former post office, will be made over the next few weeks, major renovations won’t occur until tenants are secured.
“We want to improve the property for the tenants as opposed to improving the property and then changing the property for the tenants,” Kenney said.
Kenney believes the plaza will be a prime place to do business because of a lack of amenities on the island.
“The fact that services aren’t on Longboat Key makes it an optimal site,” he said.
He believes that bringing those services to the north end will benefit the entire island.
“There’s an opportunity to provide not just the north side but the entire island with the services that are lacking,” Kenney said.
Juliani Kenney Investment Capital LLC
Juliani Kenney Investment Capital LLC was founded in 2007 by Brian Kenney and Rick Juliani. The company started out focusing mostly on distressed multi-family residential properties but transitioned into retail development. Recent projects have included finding a national retail tenant for a 37,000-square-foot distressed property, in Somerville, Mass.; the redevelopment of a 160-unit residential community, in Tallahassee; and the 86,000-square-foot New Balance building, in Boston, that the company transformed into office space.
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