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Sarasota Thursday, Sep. 16, 2021 9 months ago

County building sale adds to evolution of Ringling corridor

The potential redevelopment of the Sarasota County Administration Center is likely years away, but it could be a piece of a larger series of changes along Ringling Boulevard.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

Sarasota County is taking steps to move out of its longtime administrative home at 1660 Ringling Blvd., removing hundreds of workers from an office building in downtown Sarasota while creating an opening for the redevelopment of a 5.3-acre site.

County officials are sorting through options for selling the property, negotiating with six companies that submitted offers of $20 million or higher. The county isn’t expected to relocate for a few years to allow time for the construction of a new office facility on Cattleman Road. Still, the eventual construction of a new project on the land is poised to contribute to a larger transformation of the Ringling Boulevard corridor, particularly between Pine Place and Pineapple Avenue.

Although redeveloping the county building site would be a notable change on a block that predominantly features buildings that date to 1972 or earlier, commercial real estate professional John Harshman said the property hitting the market wouldn’t be a catalyst for the area south of Main Street — because demand for buildable land there is already high.

“There’s so much interest in Sarasota and the west coast of Florida that people with development concepts are just looking for places to place them,” Harshman said. 

Indeed, there are a number of other projects that demonstrate developer interest in Ringling Boulevard that predates the county building hitting the market. In 2014, Jebco Ventures constructed a 40-unit townhome project called The Q in the 1700 block of Ringling. The Aloft Sarasota hotel and One Palm condominium opened in the 1400 block of Ringling in 2016, and the 10-story Sansara condominium opened at Ringling and Pineapple in 2017.

In 2018, the law firm Williams Parker Harrison Dietz & Getzen sold its 3.3-acre office property to Capstone Group Holdings, a New Hampshire-based investment company. Capstone planned to eventually replace the one- to three-story buildings on the site with a 10-story mixed-use building at the southwest corner of Ringling and Orange Avenue.

Capstone has invested significantly in the Ringling Boulevard corridor. The company also purchased the PNC Bank building at 1549 Ringling Blvd. and the Ringling Square building at the southeast corner of Ringling and Orange. In May, the city approved plans for Ringling Square South, the firm’s planned 10-story office and parking development at 243 S. Orange Ave. A representative for Capstone did not respond to a request for comment.

In addition to new buildings on Ringling Boulevard, the city has identified additional construction projects it hopes will enliven the corridor: the extension of the Legacy Trail to Payne Park and a redesigned streetscape along Ringling. In February, the city offered preliminary approval for the Ringling Trail, an initiative that would add bike lanes and enhanced landscaping to a one-mile stretch from Lime Avenue to Pineapple Avenue.

City staff estimated full buildout of the bike lanes would take five to 10 years and cost $10 million, but officials expressed optimism about the transformative power of inviting more cyclist traffic on Ringling.

“We’re incentivizing economic development,” Commissioner Erik Arroyo said in February. “We are providing connectivity.”

Although some residents and city officials have raised the prospect of redeveloping the 3.3-acre post office site at 1661 Ringling Blvd, a spokesperson for the United States Postal Service said the property is not for sale.

County officials indicated a buyer of the 1660 Ringling Blvd. property would likely seek a rezone to the downtown core zoning classification, which allows buildings up to 10 stories tall and a residential density of up to 25 units per acre. Just one interested purchaser detailed their vision for the land: Tricera Capital said it intends to modernize and beautify the existing county building, adding retail space and other amenities to the ground floor. The company proposed building townhomes on the sites at 1646 and 1703 Morrill St., part of the land package the county is selling

Another respondent, Renaissance Centro, indicated plans to build a mixed-use project, though the submission did not provide any specifics. The companies interested in buying the land tout experience managing office buildings and developing residential, commercial, office and mixed-use properties. Given the market conditions downtown, however, Harshman predicted residences would be a central component of any project that pops up on the county property.

“​​The market is driving it, the market determines what’s going to go in there, and the market is residentially based,” Harshman said. “I’d be surprised at the end of the day if it’s not residentially based.”

If a new owner reduces the office space on the county property or eliminates it altogether, Harshman said there’s some potential downsides. The presence of workers helps steer traffic to restaurants in the area, and the departure of county employees would diminish a downtown office scene that experts have said needs improvement for more than five years.  

“It’s never good when you lose activity that contributes to the livelihood of downtown,” Harshman said. ‘The office market is struggling. It was struggling before the pandemic, and that really nailed it pretty hard.”

Still, Harshman said the loss of daytime workers may be offset by the addition of more residents in the heart of the city. If another condo, apartment or townhome project comes to Ringling Boulevard, it’s evidence that potential buyers continue to see the street as an attractive destination — which would likely benefit nearby retailers and restaurants, too.

“What’s driving the demand for residential is an influx of people,” Harshman said.

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