After a referendum to add a residential component to the struggling Longboat Key shopping plaza failed, owner Ryan Snyder is selling it off piece by piece.
Ryan Snyder tried to make it work on Longboat Key.
He bought into Whitney Beach Plaza as part of an investor group in 2012, and the blighted shopping center underwent $2 million in renovations. After becoming the sole owner in 2015, he pitched plans for a hotel to revitalize the site after struggling with leasing, but nixed the proposal after Floridays began pursuing a hotel just north of his property.
Last year, a mixed-use project with up to 18 homes failed after residents voted down a referendum to lay the groundwork for the project. This year, he hinted at a solely residential neighborhood.
In the end, he’ll file papers to turn the 3.8-acre property into a commercial condominium development so he can sell each unit in the plaza individually. It’ll likely remain in its current configuration for the next 50 years, he said.
“The island right now has got traffic problems,” Snyder said. “I expect it’s going to be hard to get anything done on the residential side, and something has got to get done with this center. I don’t want to do this, but I don’t see any other way.”
Though he notes that converting commercial into residential actually lowers traffic counts, it’s the perception that has mattered.
Nick DeVito II of Ian Black Real Estate will broker the coming sales, and the 10,000-square-foot “market” building will likely be divided into smaller spaces. The town doesn’t have a say about whether Snyder can pursue the conversion.
“All we have to do is file some paperwork,” Snyder said.
Although the move will help rid Snyder of the floundering real estate, it may hobble the town’s efforts to create a gateway to the north end and revitalize 10 acres skirting Longbeach Village.
The Town Commission four years ago amended the comprehensive plan to create the Whitney Beach overlay district, which encouraged redevelopment by allowing mixed-use projects, included flexibility with setbacks, awning overhangs, parking and open space requirements and even allowed for financial incentives, such as infrastructure or landscaping improvements. The blighted gas station and former bank building on Gulf of Mexico Drive are components of the district, but Whitney Beach Plaza makes up the largest single portion.
“Once the individual spaces become independently owned, it’s much more difficult to have a redevelopment of the site,” said Planning, Zoning and Building Director Alaina Ray. “So it would very likely remain in its current configuration.”
Although Longbeach Village resident and organizer Pete Rowan said he would have supported a low-density residential plan, he’s not disappointed the center could remain commercial for decades to come.
“I would like to see the businesses make it in there,” he said.
Longbeach Cafe owner Colleen Collandra said she thinks if the property had more leasing promotion, the center could thrive — as her business is — as full commercial. Although it’s too soon for her to determine whether she’ll buy her unit, she has one-and-a-half years left on the lease.
“At least I have that time to figure it out,” Collandra said.
But Pat Neal, who built the plaza in 1970 and opened Food Way in October of that year, said the property in its current form will never be competitive with other options on the south end. And with an aging population, residents just don’t spend as much money as they used to on the island.
“That property peaked in the fall of 1978 when the Publix opened six miles south at Harbour Isles,” Neal said. “I got the highest rents that I got in that shopping center in 1978, and they declined until the early '90s when I sold it.”
Robyne Richardson, owner of Beach Fitness 24/7, said she was excited about the prospect of some residential being on the property, but wasn’t too disappointed about the commercial condominium prospect. With individual owners, she said each tenant might get more attention, but has reservations about maintenance.
For example, the seawall behind the plaza needs to be replaced, and all the units owners would have to pitch in for that under the new arrangement.
Snyder said this is the only unsuccessful property in his portfolio.
“I never thought it would come to this,” he said. “Pat Neal said some 30 years ago when he owned this property that it would never succeed as commercial, and fast forward to 30 years later, what he said rings true.”
— East County Observer Senior Reporter Pam Eubanks contributed to this report
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