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Longboat Key Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020 6 months ago

A wake-up call for LBK

A real estate expert thinks the decline in property values in the Sarasota County portion of Longboat Key is a one-off aberration. Town leaders should see it as a threat to be addressed.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

Who knows? John Tuccillo, former chief economist of the National Association of Realtors, might be right.

The 2.81% decline in property values in the Sarasota County portion of Longboat Key might be just a “one-off” aberration.

Even if it is, it’s also a wake-up call.

Earlier in the year, when discussing the Longboat Key Town Commission’s desires for a town center next to the Shoppes at Bay Isles and the Publix Super Market, a prominent Sarasota architect told us, “Longboat Key needs to do something because the value of the downtown Sarasota condos has surpassed Longboat’s.”

That eclipse has been in the making for a decade with the rise of the multimillion-dollar luxury condos on the bayfront. All the while those new condos were rising in downtown Sarasota, the stock of Longboat’s gulf-front condos continued to age.

Look at the adjoining table. Of the 27 gulf-front condominiums and condo complexes in the Sarasota County portion of the Key, two-thirds of them (18) were developed 30 years ago or more.

Indeed, it’s almost shocking to realize The Diplomat, 3155 Gulf of Mexico Drive, and the Seahorse Beach Resort, 3453 Gulf of Mexico Drive, are 60 years old, while the high-rise Islander Club and Longboat Key Towers are 50 years old. The Sands Point condominiums are 54 years old.

Go into the Manatee County portion of the Key, and you’d find the same aging of condominiums there.

In a nine-page report on town values for the Town Commission, Tuccillo pointed out how Longboat’s condo stock is neck-and-neck with that on Siesta Key for being the oldest in Sarasota County. As another indicator of how little recent development and redevelopment has occurred, of all the beachfront condos in the Sarasota County portion of the Key, only two projects have been developed in the 2000s (see table).

For sure, the completion of Unicorp Developments’ St. Regis Hotel and condominiums will help improve values on the southern end of the Key. But that is the last gulf-front parcel available. If new development is to occur, existing condos would need to be razed and redeveloped.

But redevelopment is extraordinarily complex — as demonstrated by how difficult it has been for Unicorp’s owner, Chuck Whittall, to gain the required 90% approval from a condominium’s unit owners. By the time he completes the St. Regis, he will have worked on that project for more than a decade.

Now multiply the complexity of the Colony’s redevelopment by the number of condominiums complexes on the Key that are 30 or more years old. Clearly, if Longboat is to remain what it is and has been — one of Florida’s premier resort-second-home communities — serious thought and town legislative action will be required. Tuccillo recommended as much, urging the Town Commission to provide a practical way for condominiums to redevelop.

To an extent, the commission already has done that. Over the past two years, the commission amended the town’s zoning code to provide paths to redevelopment. Take the Sea Gate Club, for instance. If its unit owners wanted to redevelop its units to meet today’s amenities standards — with higher ceilings and more square footage — it has enough land to broaden its footprint and perhaps have fewer stories but bigger units. But overall, the town is maintaining its lid on heights.

Suffice it to say the process for redevelopment isn’t simple. And in that vein, one point always to keep in mind: Capital flows where it is welcome. If the town’s redevelopment regulations stand in the way of meeting market demand, they will inhibit redevelopment and ultimately hurt the appeal and value on the Key.

But rather than revisit how the town revised its zoning codes, perhaps another place to look would be to research how other similar, older communities have addressed the same issue. Go to South Florida, for instance. How have small beach towns, such as Bal Harbour, Golden Beach, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Delray Beach and the town of Palm Beach, addressed this issue?

That’s one piece of the future property-value puzzle. Another, which Tuccillo also pointed out, is the serious issue of accessibility to and from Sarasota.

Call it Longboat Key’s 100-year war. Tuccillo correctly noted how the infamous intersection at Gulfstream Avenue and Tamiami Trail and the soon-to-be-built roundabout there “is going to lead to a diminishment of the attraction of the Key.” You could also include traversing St. Armands Circle as a contributor to that as well.

For four decades, Longboaters have discussed the need for another bridge from the mainland to Longboat Key. And for four decades, that topic has gone nowhere. But it should not die. The need is still there.

Unfortunately, because of Longboat Key’s demographics — an affluent island of only 7,200 voting residents — Longboat has little power to persuade the Sarasota-Manatee Regional Planning Council to make this a priority.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way. Even though the consensus is always that another bridge to Longboat would be financially and environmentally unfeasible, perhaps there are enough interested residents and creative minds on the Key to strategize how to make the impossible possible.

To be sure, people’s minds and priorities are elsewhere these days — focused on the elections results, COVID-19 and that new roundabout at Gulfstream and U.S. 41. But it’s always part of the town leaders’ responsibilities to look beyond tomorrow. Yes, the decline in values might be a one-off, but it was and is indeed a wake-up call.

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