Updated at 7:45 p.m. Tuesday, June 14
Sarasota’s Historic Preservation Board has unanimously rejected a local developer’s request to knock down the Mira Mar building on South Palm Avenue to make way for a project that would include 70 condominiums and a two-story retail building.
The decision came at a meeting Tuesday afternoon where Seaward Development pleaded to take down the existing building citing structural issues that have led a local engineering firm to recommend inspections every three days.
But those concerns, and a half hour presentation that even a city official said was the most thorough he’d seen, was turned aside as about a half dozen residents stood up to oppose the demolition. The local citizens, in general, said demolition would continue to alter the city’s character, further risking turning Sarasota into, as one speaker put it, “Everytown, U.S.A.”
The Mira Mar building was built in 1922 and over the decades has been updated, renovated and rebuilt. Many see it as a historic property that harkens back to Sarasota’s early boom days and brings a charm some see as fading as construction projects downtown get bigger and more modern.
Seaward officials agree with that sentiment and say their plans for the property would be true to the original design and spirit of the Mira Mar while modernizing it and addressing serious structural issues.
But, Patrick DiPinto, Seaward’s managing partner, argues that can only be done if the current building is brought down and rebuilt. He says knocking it down won’t affect the historical import because what people see today is a “remake of the original. The building was 60%, 70% rebuilt in the 80s.”
“We all love the charm and character of the building. We do,” he says. Seaward, which is under contract to buy the building for an undisclosed amount, has been a tenant in the Mira Mar for the past five years.
The real problem, the firm says, is the building has fallen into such disrepair it’s too costly to maintain or to simply fix. In the presentation, it says the building has been assessed by Sarasota County at $2 million but needs $22 million to fix, a project that could take three years.
And the Seaward presentation wasn’t just part of a sales pitch.
3:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 14
The city of Sarasota inspected the safety of the Mira Mar building on South Palm Avenue on Monday, June 13, a day before the Historic Preservation Board voted on a local developer’s proposal to tear down the historic building to make way for a 70-condominium development.
The building, which was built in 1922 and has seen major changes in the decades since, is drawing attention as the developer considers its future and the future of tenants, including the owners of prominent city restaurant located in the property.
The inspector, according to a city spokesperson, visited the building and reached out to the building’s engineer of record with plans to look at the engineer’s latest report. The inspector, the spokesperson says, did not make a formal response or take any immediate recommendations, including asking tenants to move out.
This despite an email to the building’s current owner, Mark Kauffman, from an outside engineering firm recommending safety inspections recommending safety inspections of the north portion of the building every three days.
“We propose to install more crack measuring gauges and propose to do regular monitoring,” says the email from Karins Engineering, a copy of which was provided to the Business Observer, sister paper of the Sarasota Observer.
According to buyer Seaward Development, and Kauffman, engineers say that despite the work done to keep the property intact, the 100-year-old wood frame is badly damaged, including drastically undersized foundations, corroded structural wood wall studs, extensive insect damage and wood rot. This, the developer says, calls “into question the load path for gravity loads and walls observed with no lateral resistance to wind loads.”
The buildings assessed value is about $2 million but it needs more than $22 million in repairs, according to Seaward.
Sarasota’s Historic Preservation Board is considering a request by Seaward to tear down the historic Mira Mar building on South Palm Avenue to make way for a 70-condominium development. The city’s inspection is not tied to the request.
The five-person panel was scheduled to vote on the demolition request at its Tuesday, June 14.
Seaward, which is based in Sarasota and whose offices is in the Mira Mar building, is going before the board asking for permission to demolish the building after agreeing to purchase it. The developer’s plan is to keep the zoning, which allows for a 10-story building, as is and build two floors of retail facing Palm Avenue and a second residential building behind the commercial space that pays “homage and to the original look and design of the property.”
The Mira Mar building is actually two buildings that are connected by a bridge. Seaward’s application for demolition covers the entire property. Although the Mira Mar is considered historic to many in the community, it is not the original building that sits on the site, and so many renovations and changes have been made in the past century that its application to the National Register for Historic Places was rejected in 1983.
The plan ran into opposition even before the meeting with one of the owners of a prominent restaurant in the Mira Mar taking to social media the night before the meeting to take issue with it and to reassure customers that the restaurant wasn’t going anywhere.
Paul Caragiulo, whose family owns Caragiulos Italian Restaurant at 69 S. Palm Ave., says in the post that the restaurant is in the south building and that the major issues are in the other building. He writes “our landlord has assured us that at present, the building is safe.”
In the Facebook post, he wrote that “We are not privy to the lease terms of other tenants of Mira Mar, but we can tell you for certain that Caragiulos has a lease term which concludes in 2040.”
Caragiulo, who is out of the country, says in a phone interview that the restaurant has about 18 years left on its current lease and reiterates that the building is safe and that he intends to live out the rest of the terms of that lease. As for what happens if the city does grant Seaward permission to demolish the building, he won’t comment.
“I have nothing to say regarding what is happening in that meeting today. Nothing to say about the project. It has nothing to do with me,” he says.
But Caragiulo's assurances are a far cry from what Mira Mar’s current owner, Mark Kauffman, says.
Kauffman, in a statement, says “Mira Mar has now passed its useful life. “A confluence of situations have led to the professional realization that repairs, and restorations are not a fiscal option for the permanent sustained future of the Mira Mar.”
As for the lease term, Kauffman said June 13, the day before the meeting, that if the permission is denied to bring down the building, he will allow leases to run out over the next two years and then close the building down and fence it off.
Patrick DiPinto, Seaward’s managing partners, says the company cannot comment on existing leases but that the firm is willing to work other tenants in the building.
“Nothing would make us happier than if many of the existing tenants came with us into a new safe building,” DiPinto says in a statement issued through a spokeswoman. “We are working with commercial real estate brokers to help relocate many of them and assist them during any transition if necessary. But our main concern right now is whether the building is safe, as one of 40 tenants in the building ourselves.”
Affected parties opposed to the demolition or Seaward can appeal the board’s decision to the Sarasota City Commission. There is no timetable yet for when the work will begin if the demolition is approved.
This article originally appeared on BusinessObserverFL.com.