Jesse Biter has a vision for Palm Avenue and the empty retail space that sits underneath the Palm Avenue parking garage.
Now his focus is securing tenants to fill the retail space, which he hopes will help fill the garage with cars and breathe life into a street that usually sits quiet after 5 p.m.
Biter entered into an agreement in December with the city of Sarasota to purchase the 11,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor of the Palm Avenue parking for $1.6 million. The property is considered one of the best real-estate parcels in the city.
Biter says he’s currently in discussions with several brand-name tenants, including highly recognized restaurant chains, to anchor the space. Biter also has plans to sign up some high-end retailers as well.
It’s his goal to have at least a few tenants in and operating by late fall 2012 and know who his tenants will be as soon as March.
“We have gotten a whole bunch of potential tenants that have submitted ideas for the space,” said Biter, who said he has interest in both national chains and local stores.
Biter envisions “a classy, high-end restaurant” that could take up 60% of the space, with the restaurant being flanked by some high-scale boutiques.
Biter’s stipulation for any potential tenants, however, is that they sign an agreement mandating they stay open until 9 or 10 p.m.
“We need shops open that late,” Biter said. “It will take an effort by everyone on Palm Avenue to stay open later, and I’m willing to lead that charge.”
The Palm Avenue retail space, however, isn’t the only impact on business he plans to bring to downtown Sarasota.
Biter has plans to move the Hub, a for-profit business incubator launched in 2009 to provide space, advice and, potentially, capital, for technology-related startups, from the Rosemary District to downtown Sarasota.
The Hub will move a few blocks, into the former Century Bank building on Fruitville Road and Goodrich Avenue. Biter, through Biter Idea Vault LLC, bought the 41,617-square-foot building in May for $2.8 million. Biter plans to spend at least another $1.5 million on a massive building renovation that covers everything from new floors and elevators to adding a coffee shop.
Biter, who sold his $16 million auto sales software firm in 2010, further plans to redefine the scope of the Hub. He plans to create spaces and opportunities for technology startups, infant-stage and growth-stage companies.
“We’re not just letting anybody in,” Biter said. “This is strictly for technology companies that want to grow.”
Biter said he would work out leases with tenants that could involve space for equity in the company. Biter also plans to launch an idea-based hedge fund for the Hub, where tenants can pitch their company to prospective investors, like the Shark Tank TV show.
“A big goal I have is to create a technology incubator and facilitator,” said Biter. “I want this to be the Silicon Valley of Florida.”
Hometown: Westchester, Pa.
Former occupation: Serial entrepreneur, former owner of a software company
Hobbies: Biking, flying, boating, skiing and scuba diving
Passion: Business and politics
Interesting facts: Biter is a helicopter pilot and started his first company, Biter Car Detailing, when he was 16 years old.
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