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Opinion
Sarasota Thursday, Jul. 15, 2021 2 weeks ago

St. Armands master plan called for hotel 13 years ago

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It goes without saying in Florida that any major development will spark vocal opposition.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

Remember the proposal from JWM Management to develop the asphalt parking lot on St. Armands Circle into a boutique hotel and Morton’s Market?

It continues to percolate.

The St. Armands Business Improvement District board is seeking comments from the St. Armands Circle merchants for three proposed zoning amendments to the code governing St. Armands Circle:

  • To allow building heights to increase to 45 feet from a current maximum of 35 feet.
  • To allow residential units to be built on the second floor, or potentially the third floor of buildings.
  • To allow a boutique hotel to be built, with retail on the first floor (Morton’s Market) and hotel rooms on the second and/or third floors.

Although JWM’s presentation in late May to the City Commission immediately sparked resistance from St. Armands Key residents, it’s worth noting that JWM’s idea isn’t new. In fact, much of what JWM proposed fits with a plan completed in 2008.

At that time, the city engaged the Tampa engineering firm of Heidt & Associates to develop a master plan for St. Armands Circle. Heidt performed the standard routine for these types of projects, conducting two major workshops and meetings with special interest groups, citizen groups, city staff and the Florida Department of Transportation. Heidt also solicited comments from landowners, merchants and residents through questionnaires and surveys.

From all that came these three top recommendations:

  • “An upscale grocer. … Niche gourmet grocery chains, such as Whole Foods or Morton’s Market, have emerged as prototypical anchors.”
  • A boutique hotel. Said the report: “One of the most cited complaints among owner surveys was a lack of boutique hotels on or near the Circle.

“On-site hotels provide a natural customer base for retail shopping areas. Hotel visitors often have limited local mobility and limited knowledge of the area in which they are staying. Thus, they are most likely to shop in the area immediately surrounding them. The dearth of hotels on or near The Circle is a serious disadvantage then, relative to other shopping areas.”

  • “A small upscale national retail department store that would act as an end-destination retail anchor and draw customers from the entire MSA.”

The report also stated that the most likely place for a hotel and/or grocer was the surface parking lot JWM proposed to develop.

It goes without saying in Florida, and especially in Sarasota and Longboat Key, that any major development will spark vocal opposition. “I’ve got mine, but you can’t have yours.”

But that posture and attitude ignores this reality: Florida and Sarasota will continue to grow. In that vein, if Longboat Key and St. Armands Circle intend to remain competitive, they must change to meet market demands. Consumers are always looking for something new.

What’s more, if you’ve spent any time at University Town Center recently, that massive commercial development is all about new and continues to grow.

In that vein, consumers, travelers and tourists are always looking for something new. When Heidt & Associates completed its master plan study in 2015, it noted multiple times how little St. Armands Circle has changed from John Ringling’s vision 100 years ago.

This business truism applies to St. Armands Circle as well: If you’re not growing, you’re dying.

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