At last month’s Arlington Park Neighborhood Association meeting, the Cabana Inn was the target of criticism.
The city’s Urban Design Studio team made a presentation at the meeting, and both designers and residents agreed the property was problematic. Under the upcoming form-based code, the building could undergo a transformation that would make the property more neighborhood-friendly and walkable.
“Maybe, instead of having as much parking in the front, instead you would have a high-quality building that’s closer to the street,” principal urban designer Andrew Georgiadis said.
Scott Woolridge, co-manager of the Cabana Inn since January, doesn’t view the motel the same way. He agrees improvements need to be made, but his vision for the property is counterintuitive, in that he doesn’t want to change much.
Woolridge, whose management contract includes a purchase option, sees the Cabana Inn as a building with a history worth preserving. He wants to keep the motif of an “Old Florida motel,” rebuilding and rehabbing parts of the property while maintaining the same general feel.
As the Cabana Inn’s reputation as a music venue has made progress this year, his attention is moving now to the surrounding motel rooms. The motel can also thrive, Woolridge said, with a bit of an
One of the first steps Woolridge would take would be knocking down the motel’s two-story rear building, made up of smaller rooms. In its place, he’d build a three-story structure, with two floors of suites and a third floor of smaller units.
The final product would require no density adjustments, Woolridge said, but could better attract customers.
“It needs to be for hospital stays; it needs to be for business travelers; it needs to be for vacationers who want to stay between the Keys,” Woolridge said. “It needs to be operated as a motel, not to have a bunch of full-time residents.”
Rodney Dessberg, owner of the Cabana Inn property, wanted a larger hotel on the land, but density regulations have hindered the idea. Under the form-based code, a hotel in line with Dessberg’s plans is more likely to be approved — and the progress Woolridge has made is more likely to disappear.
“It’ll be another chain motel, and another piece of Sarasota history has been bulldozed over,” said Woolridge.
Woolridge made it clear there’s no animosity between himself and Dessberg, but he’d prefer to see his plans come to fruition. He’s working on finalizing drawings and securing funding, and hopes to present his plans to the city by March.
If people question the preservation of the Cabana Inn, Woolridge hopes they’ll consider the legacy of the building.
“This hotel and bar was, once upon a time, a family vacation destination,” Woolridge said. “It may not be a historic landmark building, but it’s definitely a piece of Sarasota history after more than 60 years.”
Contact David Conway at [email protected]