An uptick in activity has residents curious about the future of the property, but a definitive answer could still be months away.
In April, Alta Vista residents discussed something strange they’d noticed in the parking lot of the nearby Ringling Shopping Center: cars.
Largely dormant since a failed effort to add a Walmart in 2013, a portion of the Ringling Shopping Center land now serves as a storage facility for vehicles from the Sarasota Ford dealership. A fleet of dozens of cars sits in the southeast corner of the property, fenced off from the rest of the commercial site.
This unusual flurry of activity generated some concerns from Alta Vista residents. The neighborhood has long been upset at the fence around the property, erected after the city denied Walmart’s plans, sparking a lengthy legal battle. Now, the residents wanted to know: Was the car storage an allowed use for the property? Was the new fence permitted, too?
More pertinently, was it any clearer what the property owners had in mind for the future of the Ringling Shopping Center?
On May 24, City Attorney Robert Fournier answered those questions in response to a letter from the Alta Vista Neighborhood Association. Vehicle storage was allowed under the current zoning, and city staff authorized the fencing, he said.
Sarasota Ford Operating Partner Matt Buchanan said the dealership started using the property for storage earlier this year. He’s heard about the residents’ concerns, and made clear the cars will be a short-term feature at the shopping center. He said the temporary solution was a response to significant growth at the dealership; Sarasota Ford is working to close on an 8.5-acre site in south Manatee County to use as a permanent storage option.
“We never wanna be a thorn in anyone’s side,” Buchanan said.
As for the future of the property once the cars are relocated? The answer to that question is still forthcoming.
“The property owners really did want the property redeveloped or leased out.” — Robert Fournier
In October, the city and the property owners struck an agreement to potentially settle an ongoing lawsuit. The deal gave the owners three options for the land: renovate the building under the existing zoning, redevelop the property under the existing zoning or redevelop the property under the city’s preferred “new urbanist” principles.
The property owners, led by Louis Doyle, have until October to inform the city of the new plans for the center. Doyle did not return calls for comment.
Based on recent discussions with the owners’ attorney, Fournier said he was confident “substantial efforts at redevelopment were underway.”
“I feel quite certain that the car storage and the fence is only temporary, because the property owners really did want the property redeveloped or leased out,” Fournier said.
Until more details are divulged, residents will have to make peace with the car storage and new fencing. According to Alta Vista Neighborhood Association President Larry Silvermintz, the neighborhood is eager to see a long-term plan for the property.
“We want to revive some of the economic activity and give people another reason to live here,” Silvermintz said. “Once you’re in your home, you have to be able to go to something from your home.”