For the last two years, business owner Mark Manges had his eyes set on a space in Lakewood Ranch’s San Marco Plaza.
But until just last month, empty spaces in the commercial center simply weren’t available, because banks sat on more than a dozen vacant properties.
Manges, who moved his business, Skybox Asset Management, to the center in June, said he feels like he and others are helping to usher in a new epoch for the plaza.
“It’s a new era,” Manges said, adding he looks forward to holding special events with other business owners at San Marco in the future. “When you are having fun, everything else happens.”
Yellow Strawberry Hair & Makeup Salon in Lakewood Ranch recently closed on three adjacent units and soon will take the corner space occupied originally by Barnie’s Coffee & Tea Co., and more recently by Underseas Paradise Aquarium.
“It’ll do excellent there,” Realtor David Neff said of Yellow Strawberry. “They’ve got a magnificent following.”
The openings come at a time when longstanding San Marco business, iTesori Gifts and Home Furnishings from Italy, closed its space with plans to relocate to a shop on First Street in Sarasota. Throughout his time at San Marco, Managing Partner Anthony Vento had been one of the plaza’s strongest advocates. Vento had served as board president of the San Marco Association in previous years.
“We are sorry to be leaving but know that our fantastic Lakewood Ranch customers will visit us at our new location,” Vento said. “They have come out of their way to San Marco Plaza and helped us tough it out for four years. But to stay viable in the long-term, we have to have more visibility and visitor business. This plaza seems to be evolving into a non-retail center now, and a specialty store such as ours needs to be among other specialty stores.”
The plaza originally was envisioned to have retail shops below with professional space above, but the concept never really came to fruition, Condominium Association Vice President Kevin Neurer said. The mix of tenants, he said, is still developing.
“It’s really a sign of the times and the market,” Neuer said of the types of businesses now coming into the plaza.
Neff, who is working to bring businesses into the plaza, said units are garnering attention both from Realtors and investors. Overall, the availability of units and new tenants coming to them is energizing the plaza, he said.
“There’s been a lot of interest,” Neff said. “It’s a great space. Things are more upbeat. It’s more positive.”
Barbara Smith, owner of Second Ann Rose, a consignment boutique that opened in April, agreed. In her first three months of business, she’s been making a profit and expects that trend to continue even after she purchases her unit from the bank and assumes a mortgage that is higher than her current rent.
“The energy is wonderful,” she said.
Besides opening units for purchase, the banks’ foreclosures also are paving the way for lower costs for future and existing business owners in San Marco. Neurer said the association now is receiving dues on units that have not been contributing virtually since the plaza opened.
“We’re actually financially in the best shape (we’ve been in) since opening (the plaza),” Neurer said. “Eighty-five percent of units are paying (association dues).”
At one time, while waiting for banks to foreclose on at least 15 units, San Marco’s existing business owners — about 38% — were paying all of the plaza’s operating expenses. Neurer said the association now will be able to drop fees for businesses in the plaza by one-third starting in January and may be able to drop dues even more once the final three units in foreclosure — including the anchor owned by Golden Apple Dinner Theatre — are foreclosed on and start bringing in dues.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
Association pursues Golden Apple foreclosure
The San Marco Plaza Condominium Association has reinitiated a foreclosure action against the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre, which owns the plaza’s anchor space and accounts for 12% of the square footage.
Association Vice President Kevin Neurer said once the bank forecloses on the property, it will be able to be marketed and put up for sale.
“From the condominium association’s perspective, it’s been sitting vacant for three years, and we need to have a viable business in there,” Neuer said. “We’re sad (Golden Apple) won’t be coming in, but (we) can no longer have that space empty and not paying dues.”
Golden Apple Dinner Theatre co-owner Bob Turoff said he is still hopeful to resurrect plans for the Lakewood Ranch theater.
LandMark Bank, which held the mortgage for the San Marco space, was seized by regulators July 22 and sold to American Momentum Bank of Tampa. Turoff said he is hopeful Momentum may provide a construction loan for the property.