The Woman’s Exchange purchased the 4,598-square-foot property at 526 Rawls Ave., which is directly adjacent to its consignment shop, in October 2012 and has received a demolition permit from the city to tear down a four-plex there.
The non-profit consignment shop that donates a portion of proceeds to local arts organizations and gives scholarships to students studying art is now “checking into several different options” for expansion on the adjacent property, said Karen Koblenz, executive director and CEO at the Woman’s Exchange.
“Our organization is growing, and we are looking to move forward,” Koblenz said.
The Woman’s Exchange board of directors will likely discuss the possibilities for expansion at its upcoming meeting. Current options include constructing additional storage and retail space, although there are no specific plans or dates for a demolition, Koblenz said.
The current facility — from the 10,500-square-foot building at 539 S. Orange Ave. to the crowded parking lot — is operating at full capacity. That’s why the board of directors held emergency meetings last year and decided quickly to purchase the adjacent lot when it became available, Koblenz said.
“We are very, very busy, and we want to accomplish more,” Koblenz said. “Our goal is to give more to the arts.”
The consignment shop takes in close to 20,000 items a month and sells close to 10,000 items, Koblenz said. Last year, it contributed $380,000 in arts grants and scholarships.
Additional storage space will allow the shop to put out more of its new items and handle more estate donations, Koblenz said.
Laurel Park resident Deborah Dart said she would like to see a mixed-use project with some residential units on the adjacent property on Rawls Avenue.
“We are grasping as a community to make sure we have a growing amount of reasonably priced affordable housing,” Dart said.
Dart would like to see maybe two or four residential units above the shop’s expansion.
“We need to get a little more creative about things like this,” Dart said.
At a December 2012 historic preservation board meeting, a representative from the Woman’s Exchange said the foundation wanted to demolish the building, which is classified as a historic structure, to construct the “two-story addition.”
Koblenz said there are no concrete plans for a two-story building, as of press time.
In an interview with the Sarasota Observer, Kate Lowman, president of the Laurel Park Neighborhood Association, said she had not seen any plans for the expansion. But Lowman was concerned about the possibility of commercial trucks traversing a section of brick street on Rawls Avenue to make deliveries to the expanded shop.
“The neighborhood worked with the city to redo that street,” Lowman said.
Lowman said heavy trucks should not use the street and that the developer of the proposed nearby Homes of Laurel Park even agreed to make sure heavy equipment and construction trucks would not travel the brick street.
Koblenz said there are no immediate plans for a meeting with surrounding neighbors, and she emphasized that expansion plans are only in the preliminary phases.
“We are exploring our options, trying to make decisions that will serve the organization for years to come,” said Koblenz, who took over the helm as CEO at the Woman’s Exchange in 2010.
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