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High hopes for Harbor Square

Danny and Debbie Palmer believe they can inject some new life into the underutilized Harbor Square office building with a new restaurant offering and other businesses.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. May 13, 2015
Danny and Debra Palmer want to purchase Harbor Square, but they need the island’s voters to allow them to live on the third floor of the building that used to be grandfathered as a residential penthouse. Photo by Kurt Schultheis
Danny and Debra Palmer want to purchase Harbor Square, but they need the island’s voters to allow them to live on the third floor of the building that used to be grandfathered as a residential penthouse. Photo by Kurt Schultheis
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A couple of months ago, Danny Palmer began driving up and down Gulf of Mexico Drive in search of the perfect place to harbor his and his wife’s dream of opening a Longboat Key waterfront restaurant. They envision an eatery focused on burgers, chicken wings and other selections under $10, along with a water taxi that brings visitors to the Key from downtown Sarasota.

A month ago he called his wife, Debra, to tell her he’d found the perfect location: Harbor Square.

The three-story office plaza sits on Sarasota Bay at 4134 Gulf of Mexico Drive. The Palmers want to live on the third floor of the building, which was once used as a residential penthouse apartment.

But there’s a problem. The apartment lost its grandfathered residential use back in the 1990s when it was converted from an apartment to commercial office use, according to Planning, Zoning and Building Director Alaina Ray. 

“To get it converted back to a permanent residence, the voters must decide in a referendum,” Ray said.

Danny Palmer says the apartment is a must for him and his wife.

“We want to live above the plaza we will manage,” he said.

The Palmers, who ran two restaurants in Punta Gorda before moving three years ago to Longboat Key, are in negotiations to buy Harbor Square from Oscar Parsons at an undisclosed price. Parsons did not return a phone call seeking comment for this story.

It’s not the first time the Palmers have combined their personal/work spaces. 

After Danny Palmer was injured in the line of duty as a Springfield, Ohio, police officer in 1993, the couple and their two sons ran a sporting goods company out of their garage.  They eventually moved to a warehouse to open a sporting goods store. They built an apartment above the warehouse. 

In 2004, the couple retired to Punta Gorda just before Hurricane Charley hit the area. After they spent almost two years cleaning up damage on their waterfront property, they opened a restaurant called Danny’s Deep Creek that became a popular bar and restaurant for watching football games on Saturdays and Sundays. They later opened a downtown Punta Gorda location that also became successful. 

After Debra Palmer became sick with a rare bacterial infection that left her  in the hospital for 31 days to recover, the couple sold their restaurants and moved in 2012 to Longboat Key after Danny Palmer drove here on a day trip and fell in love with the island. 

The Palmers created an Internet radio station called WICW Radio they operate from their home and also opened Longboat Leisure Charters. The couple are also both real estate agents with Keller Williams On the Water. 

“We can never retire,” Danny Palmer said. “We like to stay busy.”

So busy that Danny Palmer became restless again and is determined to open another restaurant on the Key that he believes is needed.

“I hear from people all the time that tell me they want a place to go for a burger or some wings,” Danny Palmer said. “That’s my specialty.”

The Palmers will continue to chat with town staff and decide whether they want to pursue a referendum. 

If it’s approved via a referendum in March and the Palmers purchase the property, they intend to move the radio station and the Longboat Leisure Charters headquarters to Harbor Square and also honor existing leases that include businesses such as Lee Heineman Construction and Design, Legacy Physical Therapy & Sports Training, Discover Rowing, Alicia’s Grooming, Kathleen D. Sailing Catamarans, Sara Bay Sailing, Lighthouse Property Management, Prime Source Graphic Imaging Excellence, Domain Capital Advisors Inc. and Accountant Bob Parrish. 

Although the Palmers have some other areas they are considering to live and open a restaurant, including a spot near Casey Key, the Palmers hope to make the Harbor Square project a reality. 

“Longboat Key is our No. 1 priority; we love it here,” Danny Palmer said. “This is where we want to be.”



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