As Sarasota County’s resurgent tourism industry begins to spur new growth and changes within the Siesta Key Village, business owners, property developers and nearby residents speculate what the popular tourist area’s mix of retail and restaurants should look like in the years ahead.
Some argue a greater mix of businesses is essential to diversify the village and expand its appeal, while others resist changing the makeup of the Village due to concerns about preserving the popular tourist strip’s unique beach community identity.
The Sarasota County Commission’s recent approval of a special permit exception for a building in the Village with both retail and rental units highlights some Village business leaders’ push for more retail establishments.
“I think it’s a positive thing, and maybe more retail will be addressed in the future,” said Cheryl Gaddie, president of the Siesta Key Village Association, responding to the recent approval of a special permit request to allow three second-story rental units on top of a first-floor retail space at 5242 and 5238 Ocean Blvd. (the former site of Napoli’s restaurant). Gidget’s Coastal Provisions, a high-end clothing retailer, plans to occupy the ground floor.
Siesta Key architect Mark Smith, who designed the new building, said property owners Jim Syprett and Jay Lancer “just felt like they would like to get more retail in the Village,” despite the fact that “they were approached by restaurant owners that would have put in a restaurant on the site in a heartbeat.”
Smith argued that the quality of goods sold in the Village is more important than the quantity of shops, pointing to new Village businesses such as Gidget’s Coastal Provisions and Lotus Boutique (a high-end downtown fashion boutique, which recently opened a shop in the Village at 5118 Ocean Blvd.) as potential game-changers for the Village’s appeal to shoppers.
“If we get better shops, it might change the perception of the Village as a shopping destination,” Smith said.
Some Village business owners, however, see the higher proportion of restaurants to retail as an essential element of the Village’s character, which distinguishes it from other walkable commercial areas in Sarasota County.
“We’re a beach community, we’re not St. Armands,” said Rick Lizotte, who has owned Comfort Shoes in the Village for six years. “We’re not known as a shopping destination.”
According to Lizotte, the numerous “family-friendly” restaurants in the Village are an asset to retailers because they draw more foot traffic to the area.
Siesta Key Village Association membership indicates the Village’s business ratio is more heavily weighted toward restaurants and bars than retail. SKVA lists 17 member restaurants compared with 13 businesses labeled as retail — making restaurants 1.3 times more prevalent than retail.
In comparison, the St. Armands Circle Association, which comprises 19 restaurants and 57 retail businesses, has three times as many retailers as restaurants — sharply contrasting with the ratio in the Siesta Key Village.
Although she supports more retail in the Village, Gaddie emphasized that the area should strive to achieve an ideal mix of businesses without prioritizing one use over another.
“I really appreciate the bars and restaurants, and I would never want them to not be here,” Gaddie said. “But I don’t think we have enough retail; the addition of retail in the Village is a real positive.”
Lizotte echoed Gaddie’s assessment.
“It has to be the right mix,” Lizotte said. “People on vacation are going to want to both eat and shop.”
Nearby condominium residents, who have battled Village owners for decades over noise complaints from live music at Village bars, welcomed the prospect of adding more retailers.
“Any time you can replace a bar with retail in Siesta it’s a great idea,” said Siesta Key Association board member Peter van Roekens, who lives at nearby Terrace East Condominiums.
Benderson Development group, which has plans on hold to add more than 8,000 square feet of new retail space to the Village, acknowledges that the Village is at a tipping point, and there is no clear indication about how the area’s business composition will ultimately look.
“There’s a lot of room to watch the Village evolve,” said Todd Mathes, Benderson Development Group’s director of development. “What happens two months or two years from now — we don’t really know.”
In 2011, Benderson purchased several land parcels in Hanna Plaza, at 5221 Ocean Blvd, which sits next to Beach Bazaar. The firm has invested roughly $2.7 million in Village properties since the beginning of 2011.
Benderson’s purchase of the Hanna Plaza parcels was originally intended to create more than 8,000 square feet of new retail space in the Village, however, rebounding sales from the property’s current tenant — a souvenir shop called Pleasures and Treasures — has put the project on hold.
“It’s on hold because our tenant in that space is doing great, and they’ve benefited from the uptick in tourism,” Mathes said.
Mathes added that, due to the continuing uptick in area tourism, there is still room for both types of businesses to grow in the Village.
“We don’t think it’s saturated with either retail or restaurants,” Mathes said. “There’s plenty of demand and limited space.”
In the end, however, Smith argued that forces beyond the control of business owners and property developers will likely shape the future face of the village.
“The market always decides,” Smith said. “And we need to be aware that we have a parking problem in the Village — everything is parking driven.”
Contact Nolan Peterson at email@example.com
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