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Town OKs deal to buy Amore

The $2.2 million deal adds another 2 acres to the future site of the Longboat Center for Arts, Culture and Education.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. January 25, 2017
Howard Rooks will sell the Amore building to the town of Longboat Key for $2.2 million.
Howard Rooks will sell the Amore building to the town of Longboat Key for $2.2 million.
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It was a close call that became a live negotiation, but the Longboat Key Town Commission voted Monday to buy the 2-acre Amore property for the coming Arts, Cultural and Education Center.

Vice Mayor Phill Younger cast the deciding vote for the town to buy the property from prominent investor Howard Rooks for $2.2 million, after lamenting the price tag. Originally intending to vote no, Younger  changed his mind after noting the absence of Commissioner Irwin Pastor. 

“I’m really, really bothered about standing in the way of what I think a commission would do,” Younger said. “I’m going to gag on this when I get home, but I’ll change my damn mind, and I’ll vote yes for the thing.”

The move required a super majority of the Town Commission, meaning if Younger followed fellow Commissioner Armando Linde with a dissenting vote, the deal would have failed.

“I am concerned about taking (the property) off taxpayer rolls,” Younger said, after Town Manager Dave Bullock said the Amore land generates more than $2,600 in Longboat taxes and assessments.

The purchase means the town will have a better frontage and entrance for the center, as well as more opportunities to add parking — Amore has 89 parking spaces. Also, the additional land would allow for water features and an outdoor venue, said Longboat Key Foundation Arts, Culture and Education Building Task Force Chairman Warren Simonds.

“Frankly, I’m really, really sad about selling it because I love the building so much, and we’ve built such a heck of a fine client base,” said Rooks. “But we all know what it’s like in the middle of summer, and restaurants are tough there.”

In December, the Town Commission extended a memorandum of understanding with Ringling College of Art and Design calling for the school to conduct an architectural program to identify functions and costs for the original 2.8-acre site. That would be extended to the new frontage, but the building outlined in rough renderings will likely remain on the previously purchased land.

The foundation, which has spearheaded the cultural center efforts, plans to help raise most of the money to fund construction of the building through philanthropy and potentially seek endowments to supplement operating costs, Simonds said. Ringling College will run the facility, which the town will also use for public meetings.

“I think it’s going to be one of the most significant things to happen on Longboat Key ever,” Simonds said.

Still, Younger and Linde — despite voicing support for the project as a whole and the potential purchase of the property — thought the parcel was overpriced, and during a workshop hours before the final vote instructed Bullock to call Rooks and see if he was willing to negotiate. The town had appraisals on the land that yielded an average value of $2.1 million.

“Frankly, I’m really, really sad about selling it because I love the building so much, and we’ve built such a heck of a fine client base,” — Howard Rooks, Amore building owner


Rooks wasn’t interested in negotiating further. Speaking with the Longboat Observer on Tuesday, the property owner said he wouldn’t have gone any lower than $2.2 million, and since he was undecided about whether he really wanted to leave the business behind, he would likely have just held onto the property.

Younger, though eventually voting in favor of the purchase, said he worried the deal, for which the town will draw funds from the $2.7 million available in its land acquisition fund, may lead to a slippery slope of other land buys.

“Where does this stuff stop?” he said.

Harbour Links resident David Novak was one of the only speakers who voiced concerns about the town’s original $1.5 million purchase of the property next to Amore in March 2014. He urged commissioners at the time to consider waiting for the opportunity to buy both properties at once due to concerns about elevation, and the fact that buying only one would cause the neighboring owner to raise their asking price above fair market value.

Now, he said the town is getting a good deal.

“I think having the two properties together is much better because you’re very limited in what you can do if you just have the one property,” Novak said.

The foundation won’t start its formal fundraising push until after architects and contractors have been chosen to determine an estimated cost for the project. But Simonds said doors could open in two years, though he’s hesitant to identify a more refined timeline.

“We want to make sure we don’t have to go back to a donor and say, ‘Can you write another check again?’” Simonds said. “Because, that’s really embarrassing.”

As for Rooks, he’s in the market to buy another restaurant to which he can transplant his staff. Amore won’t officially close until the end of May.

Before the vote, Mayor Terry Gans looked to the future in making the decision.

“I think this is the right one,” he said. “I also feel in 2040, if we do have a town center, no one’s going to remember or appreciate the fact that we got if for $50,000 less or $200,000 (less).”


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