The Sarasota Observer looks back on the top stories of the year.
The developer of the 17-story Grande Sarasotan, which was never built, has submitted new plans to the city for a condo-and-hotel development on the 2.9-acre parcel downtown.
The land at the northwest corner of U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue has remained vacant since 2004 after two proposed condo projects never materialized. West Palm Beach-based Kolter Group purchased the land for $40 million in 2005. In 2007, The Kolter Group backed off plans to build its Grande Sarasotan, citing low demand for condominiums at the time.
Kolter’s new project will feature “contemporary, artistic” architecture — a shift from the towering Mediterranean-revival, classic style of the proposed Grande Sarasotan, said Bob Vail, head of Kolter’s urban development division.
Preliminary plans for the new development call for a two-tower project that will become one of the city’s most visible at one of most prominent parcels of downtown land.
One tower will house 144 condo units — ranging from $700,000 to $1 million in price, said Vail. The other will be a 275-room hotel. According to Vail, each unit will face south and have direct bay views. Condo residents will be able to order room service from the hotel.
Several national hoteliers are interested in operating the hotel, but Vail said the development firm is in advanced talks with the Westin Hotels & Resorts branch of Starwood Hotels.
As Florida’s luxury condo market shows glimpses of a revival, and condo inventory shrinks in downtown Sarasota, Vail said, Kolter believes the time is ripe for a renewed effort to develop the vacant land.
“We feel like the market is certainly recovering,” Vail said. “We think areas such as Sarasota and Naples and downtown West Palm and Delray Beach on the east coast are going to be the areas that will lead the market back.”
Vail said the goal is to break ground in a year if the project secures city approval.
On March 15, Kolter broke ground on a $30 million project with 84 condos and 11 two-story townhomes on St. Petersburg’s Snell Isle. In what Vail sees as an indication of the condo market beginning to rebound, Kolter has also seen a nearly 50% hike over the past year in condo sales at its Two City Plaza, in downtown West Palm Beach.
City planning staff will soon consider the newest version of the downtown Sarasota project. It would not go to the planning board or City Commission for approval. The Gulfstream Avenue property is zoned Downtown Bayfront, with a maximum building height of 18 stories.
Plans submitted Feb. 27 are preliminary, and many details still have to be worked out.
“This is a complex project,” said Gretchen Schneider, general manager of planning and development with the city.
City planners have seen preliminary façade renderings, and they want Kolter to come back with improved design plans for the front of the project facing U.S. 41.
“We stressed to them we want them to try to come up with a ‘wow’ feature for that corner,” Schneider said. “It is a visible, key intersection.”
Vail said the development firm would be talking to city planners about possible façade elements. Vail also said Kolter is considering an arts theme for the project.
At a Development Review Committee meeting Wednesday, March 20, city planners also asked the developer to hold a voluntary community workshop to present plans to residents living within 500 feet of the project.
Vail said the company was comfortable holding such a meeting.
Most of the units in the condominium tower will be about 600 square feet smaller than the units proposed in the Grande Sarasotan, which were slated to sell for $1 million to $4 million a unit.
“We are not going for the large units with (as high of prices at the Grande),” Vail said.
To help bring unit costs down, early plans call for “more efficient living spaces” with less formal space, Vail said. The developers hope the project is attractive to some prospective buyers who might only be able to spend part of the year in Sarasota and, as a result, might not be willing to spend $1 million-plus on a unit.
Kolter has already donated a slice of land at the corner of U.S. 41 and Gulfstream to the city to set aside space for the proposed construction of a multi-lane roundabout at the busy corner. Vail said the developers believe a roundabout will make it easier and safer for pedestrians to cross from the bayfront to downtown.
“That is not a pedestrian-friendly stretch of U.S. 41,” Vail said. “We are big fans of the roundabout.”
The company’s market analysis showed a need for luxury hotel rooms in downtown Sarasota. The proposed hotel could share some of the market demand being directed to the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota.
During busier peak tourism months or when the Ritz-Carlton is holding an event, the new hotel would fill a need for extra rooms, Vail said.
“It will both support the Ritz and compete with the Ritz,” Vail said.
Vacant since 2004
A Holiday Inn and a Denny’s restaurant once stood at the corner of U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue. The Holiday Inn was demolished in 2004, and the Denny’s building was converted to an office building.
In 2004, Fort Lauderdale developer Richard Zipes proposed the 144-condo-unit Metropolitan on Sarasota Bay project, but it was never built. In March 2005, The Kolter Group purchased the 2.9-acre parcel for $40 million from Zipes. Two years later, The Kolter Group backed off plans to build its Grande Sarasotan development.