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Main Street, Sarasota
Sarasota Friday, May 17, 2019 3 months ago

Are big changes in store for mid-Main Street?

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Two key parcels could help revitalize a quieter part of downtown.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

Sarasota leaders have previously compared Main Street to a barbell that runs the length of the downtown core: heavily weighted with activity at either end, but lacking in the middle.

A pair of properties in the 1700 block of Main Street — one recently purchased, another on the market — could change that dynamic.

In October, Sarasota Memorial Hospital spent $10.7 million to buy the office building at 1741 Main St. that formerly housed the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. And in March, SVN Lotus listed a 1.3-acre property in the same block of Main Street for a sale price of $14 million, marketing the land as a redevelopment opportunity.

Sarasota Memorial hopes to move about 300 employees into the Main Street office this summer. The future of the land across the street is less certain, but SVN Lotus Managing Director Ashley Barrett Bloom said his company has already received significant interest in the property.

Melissa Harris, a sales agent with Ian Black Real Estate who’s listing a property in the neighboring 1600 block, is bullish on the future of the area. She acknowledged the middle of Main Street carries a different perception than the segment west of Orange Avenue or near the Hollywood 11 movie theater.

In the coming months, she has reason to think the situation will begin to shift.

“I think it’s always been overlooked, but I truly believe that’s going to change,” Harris said.

Feet on the ground

Harris singled out the imminent arrival of more office workers as a key contributor to that belief.

Before leaving the city in 2016, former Downtown Economic Development Coordinator Norm Gollub said filling office space was a crucial step for revitalizing the middle of Main Street. He said 62% of office workers shop during the workday, which meant an infusion of activity for stores and restaurants in the area.

Harris said there are advantages to being located in a quieter part of downtown, including an opportunity to buy a Main Street building for businesses or property owners who might not otherwise be able to afford it. Still, there’s no denying the imminent arrival of hundreds of additional people will create more interest in the area.

“In my mind, this property is right in the precipice of explosion,” Harris said.

Sarasota Memorial Hospital wasn’t necessarily destined to end up with a downtown office space. The organization said it targeted the former Herald-Tribune building, vacant for 18 months, because it represented a cost-saving opportunity compared to other options.

SMH spokeswoman Kim Savage said the hospital considered building a new central facility at its Clark Road campus for support staff; employees working in finance and other non-clinical departments are currently scattered across the hospital’s offices in the city and county. During the planning process, the hospital determined the Main Street property suited those needs at a lower price.

“In the end, it was more cost-effective and convenient to purchase the former H-T building,” Savage said in an email.

In total, Sarasota Memorial plans to spend $16.2 million on the building. The hospital is working to implement $5.5 million in improvements to the property, which includes the construction of a parking deck to add an additional 100 parking spaces. SMH submitted plans for the parking deck to the city for review in April.

Mix & match

This isn’t the first time people have expressed excitement about the future of this segment of Main Street.

Property investor Chris Brown assembled the 1.3-acre tract in the 1700 block of Main Street in 2014. At the time, he said the property had great potential for redevelopment, though he wasn’t sure what might eventually come to fruition there.

Rather than achieving the desired revitalization, however, that area experienced some setbacks. The Herald-Tribune left its iconic office in 2017, relocating to the SunTrust building in the same block amid staffing cutbacks. An IberiaBank branch located on Brown’s property closed that same year.

As he tries to find a buyer for Brown’s land, Bloom is hopeful the hospital’s purchase of a neighboring building is the catalyst for positive momentum on the street.

“It really is an important segment to be a connection between the east and west end of Main Street,” Bloom said. “With the acquisition of the property across the street from Sarasota Memorial, it really can become an important part of a live, work, play area of town.”

Bloom said there’s another reason to believe buyers might be interested in the property now. The federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 designated certain areas as “opportunity zones,” including four census tracts in the city. The 1700 block of Main Street is in one of those opportunity zones, which means an investment in the 1.3-acre parcel could be eligible for tax breaks on capital gains.

Although city officials have expressed some skepticism about the public benefits of the opportunity zones, Bloom said the designation has contributed to the interest from prospective buyers across the country.

As part of its marketing efforts, SVN Lotus worked with Hoyt Architects to produce a number of hypothetical development plans for the property. The conceptual plans include varying combinations of residential, retail, hotel and office space on the site. The ideas range from eight-story buildings allowed by right to 18-story projects that would require a change in the city’s comprehensive plan.

Bloom said any redevelopment plan likely won’t mirror the concepts SVN Lotus laid out, but he thinks it’s realistic to envision a mix of uses on the site. Bloom said residential development was a particularly interesting opportunity, suggesting the middle of downtown could offer a different type of product when compared to the new building taking place closer to the bayfront.

“Not everybody can afford to live on the west end, have the water views,” Bloom said.

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