Whitney Beach Plaza might see revitalization long before Longboaters see an Islandside renovation project or a Colony Beach & Tennis Resort redevelopment plan come to fruition.
Although plans for the more widely talked about resorts on the south end of the Key have stalled, details emerged Monday for a shopping center that Longbeach Village residents have complained about being an eyesore for years.
Whitney Beach Plaza’s ownership has announced ownership modifications and an up to $2 million renovation overhaul for the aging and mostly vacant shopping center on the north tip of Longboat Key.
A real-estate transaction unveiled this week shows that Whitney Plaza JKI LLC sold the plaza and surrounding property to Whitney Plaza LLC for $3.63 million.
Rich Juliani, principal of the Boston-based JKI Investment Capital LLC, says the transaction was not a sale, but more of an addition of an investment partner and capital that can help transform the plaza after former partner Brian Kenney departed about six months ago.
“This was about bringing in a new partner, nothing more,” said Juliani, whose new corporation now owns the plaza along with Ryan Snyder, a Bradenton attorney who’s made an undisclosed investment in the property. Snyder, Juliani and some undisclosed investors say they are pulling permits for a complete renovation of the plaza.
Building official Wayne Thorne said an application was submitted to re-roof portions of the plaza’s roof, and he expects a permit to be issued for that work soon. Discussions are ongoing for additional work at the plaza and what permits need to be pulled, Thorne said.
Juliani hopes a new roof can be put on parts of the plaza starting next week.
“Longboaters will see a new roof going on the old post office first,” Juliani said. “Then, the rest of the roof, followed by a complete interior and exterior renovation of the plaza.”
Snyder, now listed as a managing member for the new limited liability corporation, said the plan is “to inject about $1 million in the next three to six months.”
“Ultimately, the town of Longboat Key will be getting a brand-new shopping center,” Snyder said. “It has really been an eyesore, more than on any of the other barrier islands. Myself and a couple of other investors plan to help remedy that.”
Bradenton-based Kennedy General Contracting Inc. has been retained to spearhead the construction project, and Gary Hoyt, of Hoyt Architects, in Sarasota, is working on designs and renderings for the plaza’s renovation.
The plaza’s partners are already in talks with interested tenants and plan to open a liquor store in the next six months; they retained a liquor license with the plaza that must be used within a specified amount of time.
“We’ve already had a spike (in interest) from people wanting to move into the property,” said Snyder, a real-estate and banking attorney who owns several commercial properties.
Snyder said he and his partners intend to lease out the property and hold onto it for the long-term. He said this “is not a flipping situation for us.”
“There is such a lack of commercial space on the island,” Snyder said. “I think there is now a need for nice commercial space on the north end of the Key.”
Irina LaRose, co-owner of Design2000, said the salon had gotten at least five inquiries Tuesday morning after customers read about the transaction in a local newspaper.
“People were very concerned that something major has changed in the ownership,” LaRose said.
LaRose said that contractors have already been onsite surveying the plaza, and she has been told that construction will begin soon.
Any closures that construction may require will take place during the summer, after peak season, according to LaRose.
Village resident Commissioner Pat Zunz, a proponent of an overlay district for the plaza and nearby vacant gas station and bank building parcels, expressed skepticism about the project Tuesday and whether it would inject life into a plaza that has struggled to attract year-round shoppers.
“The problem, as I see it, is they have been saying for almost two years now that next week they were coming in for permits and we still don’t have a permit,” Zunz said. “I think the long-term best benefit for the plaza would be if the properties (the plaza, gas station and bank building parcels) could be put together to form a 7- or 8-acre parcel because it has never worked the way those properties exist now.”