We talked to the Dolphin Tower Condominium Association president about the five years of work spent repairing the damaged building — and how it feels to be close to moving back home.
For five years, Charlotte Ryan has played a pivotal role as the president of a condominium association for a vacant building.
Following the 2010 evacuation of Dolphin Tower due to severe structural flaws and damage, Ryan has helped coordinate communication between owners and construction workers. Although the process has been harrowing, it’s also nearing an end — the structural work is done, and some tenants could move back in within a matter of weeks.
We asked Ryan about the mindset of Dolphin Tower property owners, what prepared her for this work and if she ever doubted she would get to go back home.
What’s the mood among owners now?
They’re very positive about the building — about moving back, about occupying the building again, about restoring their units or remodeling their units. Impatient, because it has taken a long time. We had to go through the insurance settlement, then we had to go through the shear wall and the construction, structural part of it. Now, we’ve been working on all of the life safety programs and the restoration of the individual units. It’s been five years, and they are excited about the possibilities, and yet anxious to be able to go, OK, I can sit back on my sofa and say, “I’m home.”
Five years is a long time to wait — why not just cut your losses?
I’m a Rotarian. We have a commitment that’s called service above self. I saw an opportunity to be of service to the association, the owners. At the same time, I have an investment here, because I own a unit, it is my home. For my own personal well-being, I wanted to live here. Those two things combined made me say, “I’m staying the duration, and I’ll find a way.” And somehow, I found a way.
"Somehow, I found a way."
Was there ever a question in your mind that you would be able to keep going?
I liken it to skiing: When you hit a mogul, you need to find a way over it, around it, through it. To me, there’s always a solution to a problem. I remember my first Star Wars movie, hearing the main character on the phone saying, “I have a problem,” and them him waiting, and hearing him say, “A solution will present itself.” That’s been sort of my M.O. here, is that the solution will present itself. There have been so many people involved — both owners and professionals — to solve those problems and get over those moguls along the way.
You came to Sarasota to retire. How much time have you dedicated to this work over the past five years?
I would say it’s occupied most of my time over the past five years. Each week, every day — sometimes seven days a week, when certain problems needed to be resolved. I’ve given a lot of myself to it, for my own personal gain, as well as to be of service to the association as a volunteer. I believe in volunteerism. I think it’s a labor of love. That’s what has kept me going, trying to find the people, find solutions. I’ve done a lot of soul searching and dedication of time.
"That’s been sort of my M.O. here, is that the solution will present itself."
What was a pivotal moment that made you say “This will, eventually, become a reality”?
There were a couple of moments like that. When the insurance settlement was done — that day of negotiating the settlement that had been going on for a year of a half. The day of that settlement, I can still remember sitting there and being grateful for being able to negotiate that settlement.
I have an owner who’s of Russian background, She’s 90 years old. She said one day, “You don’t sell a dream,” because she had lived her dream living here, and she wants to come back. That touched me very deeply and gave me more impetus to see that the majority of us could come back.
What’s it like going a prolonged period of time without your “home”?
I like change, and I was fond of saying for a long time, “You know, I can move every two years.” I love change; I love the new view; I love the new surroundings. I got to live it, and I’ll tell you, it was not a dream come true. It’s fraught with feelings of homelessness, of sometimes being in transition from one place to another, and not having the amenities that one is used to until you relocate and settle down again — only to have the lease end or the unit be sold at the end of the lease, and you have to find another place. It’s not as great as I thought it would be when I was dreaming about it.
"Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I’d pray that the next step would be doable."
What prepared you to take on this challenge?
I don’t have any construction or engineering background, but I’ve been a volunteer since I was in high school. Volunteering for a project came easily me. I also am a trained psychotherapist, so I have skills for bringing people together and doing problem solving. I think that helped a lot. I can defuse anger pretty well in people. And faith in something greater than myself — sometimes, in the middle of the night, I’d pray that the next step would be doable and that we’d find the answers. All of those things contributed to my being willing and somewhat able to do it.