1-800-ASK-GARY founder Gary Kompothecras is in the initial stages of planning a bonafide hotel on the barrier island.
A prominent entrepreneur has started to lay the groundwork for the first new hotel on Siesta Key in decades.
Gary Kompothecras, founder of 1-800-ASK-GARY and a Siesta resident, plans to file an amendment to Sarasota County’s comprehensive plan that would allow a hotel to be redeveloped in commercial districts on the Key. Of the more than 10,800 properties on the island, 87 — or 0.8% — would meet the proposed criteria.
Most vacation rentals on the island come from condominium owners or smaller motel operators located in residentially zoned areas.
County staff is reviewing the proposal and has scheduled a pre-application conference Dec. 1 with the Development Review Committee. If approved by county commissioners, Kompothecras would still have to go through a special exception process that includes a neighborhood workshop and public hearings in front the Planning Commission, and again before the County Commission.
“This proposed amendment would be just a preliminary, initial step, which if approved, would make a new hotel on Siesta possible,” said land use attorney Charlie Bailey, who is representing Kompothecras.
“It’s always been something that I thought was strange that there was so little in the way of hotel accommodations on the Key.” — Siesta Key resident and former Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson.
Right now, hotels aren’t allowed by right on commercial general-zoned properties. And 27 years ago, the County Commission approved a comprehensive plan policy that restricted density and intensity to what existed at that time on barrier islands. The aim was to curtail dense residential development to avoid issues with disaster preparedness and evacuations.
“However, it has simultaneously and quietly limited quality and innovative redevelopment of (commercial general)-zoned property since 1989,” Bailey wrote in the pre-application request, which was filed Nov. 18. The number of bars and restaurants has increased in the Village and along Old Stickney Point Road on the south end of Siesta, and older buildings are in need of updating, which could be spurred by new hotel development, he wrote.
Bailey worried that the “density and intensity” language added in 1989 might preclude staff from recommending — or county commissioners from approving — plans for a hotel. The amendment adds an exception to the rule for commercial properties to be redeveloped into transient accommodations.
Richard Collard, manager of Flip Flop Cottages on south Siesta, said the demand is certainly there for more vacation rental options on the island, noting his revenues are up 10% over 2015. But, he’s skeptical that Key residents will welcome a large hotel.
“It’s not something that I would think the Key would want,” he said.
Benderson Development’s Siesta Promenade, which is proposed for the mainland, generated a huge backlash from island residents, which gives Siesta Key Association Second Vice President Catherine Luckner pause about a hotel proposal on the island. While Luckner said she’s not anti-business, the prospect of one in a commercial area may raise residents’ fears about traffic.
“I’m not a rigid person by nature, but I think on this you would get so much worry about it unless it was to swap out a condo,” she said.
Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce Chairman Mark Smith said a new hotel is sorely needed on the island and may actually reduce the amount of traffic compared with that of a bar. And residents will have plenty of chances to speak out against the project if it doesn’t mesh well with surrounding neighborhoods.
“If it’s in an inappropriate spot to put a hotel, then it’ll be shot down,” Smith said. “If the neighborhood doesn’t want it there, it won’t be there.”
Still, the details on the project are murky.
“It’s premature to be talking about a hotel flag, or any similar details at this point,” Bailey said. “Without the comprehensive plan amendment, there will be no next steps, so we haven’t invested the effort in these details.”
And the big question remains: Where will it go?
“I think it would take at least 100-plus room hotel to be viable and have conference rooms,” Smith said. “It would take some property.”
There are three areas on the Key with land zoned commercial general: roughly 23 acres in the Village, 2 acres housing a Wells Fargo at the middle of the Key and 16 acres at the south bridge, according to the county’s global imaging system data.
Smith said there have been attempts to redevelop the plaza housing Blasé Cafe and the Siesta Beach Resort & Suites — formerly a Best Western — in the Village in the past.
And Kompothecras owns a 15,000-square-foot property on Old Stickney Point Road on the south end that is the location of a storage facility.
Regardless of where it ends up, a large hotel would help attract more visitors from the United Kingdom, along with Germany and German-speaking countries in central Europe, said Visit Sarasota County President Virginia Haley.
“If it’s in an inappropriate spot to put a hotel, then it’ll be shot down.” – Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce Chairman Mark Smith
Right now, it’s difficult for international tourism companies to put together large enough room blocks to accommodate travel packages.
“For a long time we’ve really hoped on an aspirational basis for a full-service hotel on Siesta Key,” Haley said, “particularly for the international market — the people who come longer and spend more money.”
Former County Commissioner Nora Patterson, who has lived on Siesta for 46 years, said traffic could be a concern, but she has faith that Kompothecras will be a responsible developer and has the means to accomplish a project.
“It’s always been something that I thought was strange,” she said, “that there was so little in the way of hotel accommodations on the Key.”