When the Artists Court development at the edge of the historically artsy Towles Court neighborhood comes back before city staff for site plan approval, it will be bigger than the project that received Development Review Committee sign-off in October.
With the adoption of density bonuses for developments that include affordable housing units in the downtown zoning districts, the project has grown from a nine-story, 139-unit project to 242 rental units that include 15% of the bonus density dedicated to attainably priced units.
That comes to 25 attainable units, of which one-third each must be priced as affordable at 80% or below, 81% to 100% and 101% to 120% of area median income.
The nearly 16,000 square feet of derelict buildings formerly occupying the 1.39-acre site at the northwest corner of South Washington Boulevard and Adams Lane have been demolished and fencing has been erected around the lot. Developer GK Real Estate acquired residential density from abutting parcels.
Andy Patras, the company’s director of development, said it will be at least a year before construction begins.
“Realistically we won't be looking at a construction start until, at the earliest, late next year,” Patras said. “There are a lot of outside forces that are affecting real estate development right now, so we have to just be mindful of them and see where things go. The process with DRC will take four to six months and then construction drawings, so it’s going to take us another four to six months after that.”
It’s been years since the pre-COVID plan to develop the site into a hybrid hotel-apartment building. New conceptual renderings are just that. Those previously presented by Hoyt Architects of Sarasota are no longer valid, and the firm is no longer working with the project.
Patras said the new designs by OKW Architects of Chicago are very preliminary, but what is consistent with previous plans are the points of ingress and egress into the internal parking structure, which will not impact the bungalows-turned-businesses along Adams Lane.
“It's a different design, but access points will still be on Golf Street,” Patras said. Golf Street runs parallel to Adams between Ringling Boulevard and U.S. 301. “The garage actually has some shared space with the bank building across the street from us on Golf, and Adams is considered a primary street so there won’t be any traffic on that side.”
Nor will there be any street-level retail along Adams Lane, but there will be a nine-story building towering above a block of bungalows that stands between the redeveloping eastern part of downtown and the Laurel Park neighborhood. With vagrancy no longer a problem since the buildings were demolished, Patras said Artists Court will be an enhancement to Towles Court in that it will be more walkable and the density will benefit the businesses there.
Increased property values
Once populated by artists with a city-recognized homeowners association that placed deed restrictions on the use of properties, owners voted to dissolve the Towles Court HOA in 2020. Although no longer officially an artist colony, there remains an artsy flavor to the neighborhood.
The focal point of the arts community there is the Towles Court Art Center. Standing across the street from what will be Artists Court, Kevin Crute has for two decades owned the building that still serves as studios for nearly a dozen artist tenants.
Crute said with homes in the neighborhood being bought by owners uninterested in its artistic nature that the neighborhood's character is changing, But he doesn’t expect Artists Court to accelerate the evolution, given how long it has taken to redevelop the site across the street.
“I watched that piece of property ever since I bought,” Crute said. “It needed to be bulldozed and something needed to be put there, but it's been 20 years. That's how long it's taken. I think it will enhance my property, not that I have any problems finding tenants. I don't think there's really a resident on Adams Street. There might be one house that has a renter, but the rest of them are businesses. I think it's fine for everybody on Adams.”
There is little doubt the coming of Artists Court — and other nearby infill redevelopment — is “fine” for Daniel Starowicz. He owns a vacant lot on the west side of the Art Center and a bungalow on the east, the latter used for a studio.
He has objected in the past to pedestrians walking across his 50-by-100-foot lot during the monthly art walks. The lot is on the market for $1.2 million with ambitions that other owners along Adams Lane join him.
“There have been individuals over the last couple of years who have said, “If something comes up, don't forget about me,’” Starowicz said. “There are a number of people when I put my sign up who approached me and said if I am selling would I contact them and let them know if there is a chance I could include their property. I think everybody's got a price.”
Everybody, including Crute. He said he is skeptical of Starowicz’s asking price of $1.2 million for a 5,000-square-foot lot, but, “I do the math, and the math is pretty straightforward, he said. “I have a 100-by-100 piece of property. I’ve owned the building for 20 years. I think that my building should be worth $1.5 million. My neighbor thinks his quarter of an acre is worth $1.2 million, so that would put mine at $2 million. Bring me a buyer for $2 million and I'm all ears.”
With redevelopment precedent established by Artists Court, Adams Lane has the potential to capture the attention of developers. The nine parcels there are zoned Downtown Edge, which allows commercial development and buildings up to five stories, and is located in an federal opportunity zone and is in a city attainable housing overlay district.
Although he could stand to profit handsomely, and he acknowledges big changes could be coming to the neighborhood, Crute said he likes Towles Court the way it was when he bought his property.
“I kind of liked it the way it was before the neighbors started changing things. They bought here for a reason, because they like the artsy part of the neighborhood and the quietness of being on the edge of downtown,” he said. “Once a month with the art walks people would walk between the backyards and that seemed to upset just enough people to change the whole feel of the neighborhood. Nothing irks me more than somebody who moves to somebody's neighborhood where they are like-minded and wants to change the flow of things.”
Hoping for coexistence
Not everyone is ready to turn Towles Court over to new development. Since the dissolution of the HOA, resident Anna Bryan, who along with her husband Henry purchased their home in 2005, has served as president of a neighborhood association organized by property owners.
They say the neighborhood can coexist with new development on its doorstep, but their primary concerns with Artists Court are related to construction — how heavy equipment accessing the site will impact their heretofore quiet enclave.
“We just want to have some community input,” said Henry Bryan. “We realize that they're not required to do that, and I think it’s a shame that the city doesn’t require input by the people who live here. People are not against this.”
As for the multiple iterations of Artists Court, “We want to know if this final drawing is going to be their final plan,” Henry Bryan said.
The drawings will evolve, but the construction concerns will remain. Patras said he plans to address that issue with the neighbors.
“I've spoken to our direct neighbors, and I'm speaking to some of the members of Towles Court later this week and next week,” Patras said. “I think the bottom line is that they're generally in favor. It's more about disruption during construction that we're going to want to address with everyone to make sure that there are not any issues that arise. The intent is to try and mitigate any of that kind of exposure for the neighborhood.”
Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.