EAST COUNTY — As Gil Waters, Lem Sharp and Mary Dougherty-Slapp sit around a conference table, conversation immediately turns to 60 years of local history.
As past and present leaders of the Gulf Coast Builders Xchange, the threesome is working not only to continue the organization’s vision for promoting local business opportunities but also completing a vision for revitalizing downtown Sarasota that began decades ago.
“Sixty years of an organization to stay in place, to grow and to influence the community, is huge,” said Sharp, the Builders Xchange chairman and the regional manager and senior vice president for Mills Gilbane. “Over the years, the Builders Xchange got behind many events (that shaped local history).”
The Builders Xchange formally will celebrate its 60th anniversary at its annual Installation Dinner Feb. 9, at The Polo Grill and Bar in Lakewood Ranch.
Since its inception, the now-400-member organization has worked on behalf of industry professionals, not only advocating for “smart” growth and solid policies on impact fees and other issues but also promoting the concept of business doing business with members.
The Gulf Coast Builders Xchange formed in 1952, bringing on board its first executive director, Gil Waters, in 1957. With a background in public relations and media, Waters was charged with securing the entity’s first headquarters on North Lemon Avenue in Sarasota, now home of Salute Ristorante, as well as creating the “Dodge Plan Room,” a location where professionals could go to submit and bid on jobs.
He also worked to create a workers compensation group, called the Florida Contractors & Construction Industry Self Insurance Fund to provide affordable insurance for businesses.
“It was an incentive to encourage safe work practices,” said Waters, now 84.
After rallying for public support, the Builders Xchange in November 1964 successfully lobbied the Sarasota County Commission for an eight-part improvement plan for the city. Among projects it advocated for were the relocation of Sarasota’s city hall, with the re-routing of U.S. 41 to its present-day route along the water, and for construction of a seawall for Island Park to protect boats in the marina area.
“We became an industry voice,” Waters said. “Today, we remain the most active voice.”
Over the years, the Builders Xchange has worked to be a voice for controlled development, leading the charge against building moratoriums and other regulatory impediments imposed on the industry.
Its “Silver Dollar Project,” for which all industry professionals paid employees with silver dollars and encouraged their employees to pay bills with the coins to show the impacts of the industry on the local economy, is still talked about to this day.
INFLUENCE OUT EAST
Now headquartered in Lakewood Ranch, the Builders Xchange also has been an advocate for East County development, championing for the approval of Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch’s 5,100-home Villages of Lakewood Ranch South project planned for roughly 5,500 acres south and east of the Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park, as well as for the approval of a master-site plan for Nathan Benderson Park that includes a 2,000-meter rowing course and other amenities.
“When you see construction, that’s investment in your community,” said Dougherty-Slapp, current executive director.
Dougherty-Slapp said she believes the Builders Xchange’s leadership over the decades has been a key to the organization’s effectiveness, and the group still has big plans for the future.
“We’re looking forward to the next 60 years,” she said.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
1952 — Twenty general contractors began meeting at the Orange Blossom Hotel with a vision for promoting the construction industry. Paul Beall, of Beall Construction, was the first president.
1957 — Documents for the Sarasota General Contractors Association were signed, and the group incorporated.
1959 — The association presented an eight-part plan for the improvement of downtown Sarasota, including the construction of the Van Wezel auditorium.
1961 — The association opened its first office.
1962 — The association changed its name to the Gulf Coast Builders Xchange and expanded to Manatee County.
1969 — The Xchange named a new executive director, Glenda Sovars, and moved its offices.
1973 — The Xchange implemented its legendary “Silver Dollar Project.”
1983 — The Xchange fought impact fee increases and a construction moratorium.
1990 — The Xchange fought another building moratorium.
1995 — Jay Brady was hired as the new executive director.
2000 — Chairman Donnie McDonough began the Xchange’s influence in the political area, through candidate endorsements.
2008 — The Xchange hired Mary Dougherty-Slapp as its new executive director and renewed its emphasis on “Members Doing Business with Members.”