Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Ringling Shopping Center owner speaks out on property’s future

Louis Doyle says he doesn't know what will end up on his property, but he is laying the groundwork to unite supporters behind whatever plans develop.

  • By
  • | 6:00 a.m. July 2, 2015
Ringling Shopping Center owner Louis Doyle said whatever ends up on the property must make sense from a financial standpoint — which means it must be something residents are interested in using.
Ringling Shopping Center owner Louis Doyle said whatever ends up on the property must make sense from a financial standpoint — which means it must be something residents are interested in using.
  • Sarasota
  • News
  • Share

Despite some recent controversy surrounding the future of the Ringling Shopping Center near downtown Sarasota, one of the property owners says he has no idea what will eventually end up on his land.

Louis Doyle, who co-owns the nearly vacant commercial plaza, has been the target of some venom from residents who opposed his 2013 proposal for a Walmart on the site. With the city discussing a potential rezone for the property, Doyle is attempting to reframe the conversation this time around, hiring a local PR firm to gather support for the revitalization of the property.

Some residents feared he was remounting a campaign to install a Walmart at the property, despite the City Commission’s indication it wouldn’t allow the construction of a traditional big box store on that site. But Doyle insists he’s taking a wait-and-see approach.

Until the city presents its formal offer regarding the future of the land to Doyle’s attorneys Thursday, until the regulations are settled and he fields offers from interested parties, it’s impossible to say what the shopping center might look like in five years.  

“The market's going to decide what happens there,” Doyle said. “People's wishes for a certain type of thing to occur there aren't necessarily going to make it happen.”

That’s another key element of Doyle’s argument, and a reason why he still stands behind the failed Walmart proposal two years after the company backed out of a contract. He says a significant number of people supported that project. Likewise, any new proposal needs to have broad community support — he can’t simply will a controversial development into existence.

The impending city offer — which will include the potential rezone of the land to Downtown Edge and Downtown Neighborhood Edge — is a response to Doyle’s claim under the Bert J. Harris Private Property Rights Protection Act. The state law is invoked when governments "inordinately burden, restrict or limit private property rights." Doyle argues the Walmart denial had that impact on the Ringling Shopping Center.

Although his legal action has been criticized by the government — which has already emerged victorious in one lawsuit — Doyle says it’s his only recourse for making progress with the city.

“Without the Bert Harris claim, I don't think we would have had a response at all at this time,” Doyle said.

City Attorney Bob Fournier is dismissive of the Harris Act claim — the city's stance is the Walmart was not permitted by the city code — and of Doyle’s broader claims that he doesn’t have any options for developing the land. Fournier is developing two lists to accompany the city’s response to the Harris Act claim: one detailing the permitted uses for the land with new zoning, and one listing permitted uses under current zoning.

"There are a lot of reasonable uses of this property." — Bob Fournier

“There are a lot of reasonable uses of this property,” Fournier said. “There ought to be some interest in this site.”

As Doyle has suggested the city isn’t interested in seeing anything built on the property, Fournier says he’s experiencing the reverse of a typical land use dispute. Normally, the property owner is arguing that a use is allowed by the city, and the city is disputing that claim.

“With this, the property owner’s saying, ‘I don't know what I can do,’” Fournier said. ‘And I’m saying, ‘Yes you can! You can do this and you can do this.’”

Either way, the city's response to the Harris Act claim is imminent — and Doyle will have a better sense of what he can do with his beleaguered land. When he’s prepared to come forward in earnest with a plan for the future of the property, he wants residents to know he believes he’s acting with their best interests in mind.

“I feel I’m just trying to do what is the natural thing that should occur on this property,” Doyle said. “I don't think the natural thing is ever something that hurts the community.”


Latest News