In 2014, Main Street saw a flurry of businesses coming and going — a level of activity that appears ready to continue throughout the heart of the city in 2015.
Beyond the shifting nature of downtown storefronts, however, several larger-scale projects are poised to coalesce in the coming year, changing the landscape of the district.
Emblematic of the shifting direction of downtown Sarasota is a sale that might not appear particularly captivating: In December, property investor Chris Brown purchased the property at 1710 Main St., which formerly housed a Firestone, for $1 million.
It’s one of many properties Brown has amassed downtown — perhaps most notably, he owns the building at 1400 Main St. in which Fit2Run opened last year. The Firestone property is in a less-busy portion of middle Main Street, which is precisely what makes it a potential game-changing opportunity.
With the purchase, Brown now owns three adjoining parcels in the 1700 block of Main Street that total 1.3 acres. Although he’s noncommittal about specifics, Brown admits that the land is set up to become a hub for a high-traffic project in the middle of downtown that could link two historically disparate ends of the district and revitalize the center of the street.
“I think that area has a great potential for something — I don’t know what yet,” Brown said. “But at some point in the future it has great potential to connect lower Main and upper Main.”
The prospect of a well-balanced Main Street is exciting for Downtown Economic Development Coordinator Norm Gollub. He’s spoken at length about the “barbell effect” in the area — heavily concentrated with business on either end, but sorely lacking activity in the middle.
In addition to Brown’s purchase, Gollub said he’s also heard interest from property owners in taking some steps to encourage more traffic in the middle of Main Street.
“The reception to making something happen is a lot more positive now than it was two years ago,” Gollub said.
Brown is unsure when movement may begin along the 1700 block of Main Street — a Brown-owned building at 1410 Main St. has remained vacant for more than a year as he works on determining what the best fit may be. Still, it is clear that he is thinking big when it comes to his most recently acquired property.
“I’d love to somehow create one magnificent Main Street that is still pedestrian friendly, so people can walk eight, 10, 15 blocks and there’s still something to do on every block,” Brown said. “I think there might be an opportunity to do that down the road.”
Although Brown is contemplating a project that could help transform Main Street, his vision for the area is fairly traditional: a healthy combination of retail, residential, hospitality and office space.
“You’ll find that mix on every Main Street, and that’s what makes it successful,” Brown said. “That’s why people go to Main Street and why people are attracted to it.”
In 2015, Gollub expects to see an increase in both the retail and residential segments of downtown. Businesses such as World of Beer, Taco Bus and Flatbread on Main have announced plans to open this year, and large projects such as the 141-unit residential and hotel complex One Palm are scheduled to wrap up within the next 12 months.
One thing Gollub would like to see more of is perhaps less exciting, but is still something he believes is essential to a healthy downtown: office space. By drawing new employees downtown, all businesses in the area will benefit, he said.
“The more employees that we can get downtown, the more that translates into retail shopping and dining during the day,” Gollub said. “Sixty-two percent of office workers shop during the workday. It would be pretty good if we could have that happen downtown.”
Entrepreneur Jesse Biter’s properties in the 1500 block of Main Street will become home for new nightlife options this year: in addition to the Taco Bus, Biter owns the buildings that will house Paddy Wagon Irish Pub and Evie’s, which will include a three-lane bowling alley. He said he believes the area is lacking a balance in its offerings.
In addition to the commercial space, Biter is also behind a 168-unit apartment complex on Second Street, which is designed to offer attainable living spaces.
“Downtown should be a fun and exciting place to visit that has something for everyone,” Biter said.
Gollub said he’s taken note of the bars and other late-night attractions that have recently sprung up or announced plans to open in 2015 — and he’s encouraged that the voids Biter currently sees are being filled.
“I think it’s trending toward a more balanced approach to a broad range of ages,” Gollub said. “I think that’s important.”
FACTS FOR '15
Issue: Main Street continues to evolve as new businesses arrive and planning begins on larger projects.
Why you should care: Downtown leaders hope to see the level of activity in the 1300, 1400 and 1500 blocks expand to the quieter midsection of Main Street — and one property owner now has the means to kick start some of that growth.
What’s next: Businesses such as Flatbreads on Main and World of Beer have announced plans to open in the coming weeks, while Jesse Biter’s nightlife-focused complex — featuring a 24-hour Taco Bus restaurant — should be open by this summer.
A breakdown of the businesses housed on a block of north Main Street and mid-Main Street, which could soon see increased activity.