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A look back at 2023 on

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  • | 5:00 a.m. December 25, 2023
  • Sarasota
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In print we may be weekly, but the party never stops on And what a party it is. With content from all of our coverage areas in one action-packed website, we have tons of content going live all day, every day. And a lot of it never gets inked into the printed paper.

So for you newshounds, don’t feel bad: It’s natural that you may have missed a few things. Here is a smattering of the top stories from over the past 12 months.

The perfect storm for flooding

OK, so no one missed this story. Everyone is well aware that our area was bracing for Hurricane Idalia, a Category 4 storm, at the end of August. Whether it was filling sandbags or gas tanks, residents were on high alert as the storm was forecasted to sweep through our area on its way up the Gulf Coast. 

Luckily for us, the biggest impact from the story was flooding, with low-lying areas on the Sarasota bayfront and the barrier islands bearing most of the brunt of the storm. 

A sailboat drifts into Ringling Bridge during Hurricane Idalia.
Photo by Kat Wingert

St. Armands Circle saw the worst flooding of the area from several factors: the hurricane pushing water inland, a king tide raising water levels and some stormwater pumps failing.

It only took a couple days for the area to recover though, with St. Armands stores and restaurants mucking out floodwaters and reopening within a day or two.

A new level of rich

Ever since the pandemic, the area real estate market has been scorching hot with rising prices and record transactions. But even this listing was a shock: In September, a Harbor Acres home near downtown Sarasota was listed for $33,825,000.

This bayfront house set a record for sales price when it was listed for almost $34 million.
Courtesy image

By far the most expensive listing to come on the market in the area, the 11,275-square-foot, eight-bedroom, 12-bathroom bayfront estate was built in 2022 in a British West Indies style. Other amenities include a gym, clubroom, playroom, a boatlift with a Jet Ski lift and an automated mosquito spraying system. 

Although no doubt a dream house, the price may be keeping it in dream stage for most buyers. Since it was listed, it has been dropped to a much more attainable $29.95 million. A steal, really.

We’re open — no we’re not

Out of all of our news stories, restaurant news always generates a ton of traffic on our site. We’re not sure if our readers are just so sick of cooking they can’t wait to try a new place to eat or if we just like to think about food all day, but any restaurant opening is guaranteed to garner the top place in our audience traffic for a while. 

That was no different when chef Sol Shenker announced the opening of The Original Wolfie’s and Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House at the beginning of November in Sarasota’s Rosemary District.

The Original Wolfie’s and Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House closed a couple days after opening to hire more staff.
Courtesy image

What made this different is two days after its Nov. 2 opening, the New York-style deli closed to revamp its staff. As most people can recognize, good help is hard to find, so Shenker said he wanted to take a little more time to get it right.

“We have decided to temporarily close our doors in order to welcome more dedicated and passionate staff into our Wolfie’s and Rascal House family,” the restaurant said in a statement. “Our aim is to ensure that every visit is as iconic and seamless as the first.”

About two weeks later, on Nov. 16, the restaurant reopened with more limited hours and, presumably, more staff.

Who doesn’t love a good boop?

This next story not only made news out on Longboat Key, where the adorable and inquisitive golden retriever who’s the co-star of it lives, but it also graced national media for its irresistible overload of cuteness. The golden retriever, Mochi, became an instant social media sensation when his owners, Toni and Dan Pavlovich, took photos of him “booping noses” with a manatee who was equally curious when they docked near a boating platform while boating.

The Pavloviches said Mochi loves to fish and usually engages in some gentle catch-and-release fishing, but this day, it was a larger aquatic creature he was interested in. 

Mochi was hanging around on the platform when the manatee swam up. The two proceeded to touch noses for the next 10 minutes: The manatee would surface and Mochi would touch his nose to the manatee’s snout. He then swam away. 

About an hour later, the manatee returned for an encore play session of nose touching and blowing bubbles. 

“It was amazing to see this gorgeous sea cow making friends with our salty sea dog,” Toni Pavlovich said. 

Let’s get vertical

We’ve been waiting for this moment for years — the moment when Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium’s new Science Education Aquarium project will rise out of the lake at Nathan Benderson Park and start to take shape as the fabulous $132 million aquarium it’s intended to be.

That day happened in mid-March, when construction crews placed the first vertical beam atop a foundation that they have been working on since November 2020.

Mote's new aquarium started vertical construction last summer.
Photo by Jay Heater

Since then, the aquarium has begun to look like, well, an aquarium. With 14-ton acrylic windows installed just for its Gulf of Mexico exhibition tank and several floors now in place on the skeleton of the structure, the project is zooming toward its goal of an early 2025 opening. It also passed a milestone in funding when it officially secured $20 million from Sarasota County in late November.

The tanks will be complete with animals months before the aquarium opens to give them a chance to get acclimated.

“Now that we are going vertical, we know what we have ahead of us,” said Dan Bebak, vice president at Mote, adding that this phase helped them zero in on possible opening dates.

“The project is moving,” he said. “Nothing is going to stop us, except some weather here and there.”

Dakin Dairy goes to market

Residents of Myakka City could be heard collectively gasping when the news broke that Dakin Dairy Farms is listed for sale. After 22 years of owning the dairy farm, Jerry Dakin announced in late November that he was trying to find a buyer for the 3,100-head, 350-acre farm that includes six free-stall barns, a milking parlor, production areas, a milk processing plant and more.

Jerry Dakin, owner of Dakin Dairy Farms, has listed the Myakka City dairy farm for sale.
Photo by Liz Ramos

Dakin, who is 55, said the last few years have brought challenges. That includes the pandemic, when it had to dump thousands of milk daily from a lack of demand, as well as Hurricane Ian in September 2022, when it lost more than 200 cows and suffered severe damage to many of its barns. He said that, coupled with the deaths of his brothers over the last two years, prompted him to start thinking about his future.

He said his goal is to find a buyer who wants to continue to operate the property as a dairy farm. “I’m doing everything to make sure this is going to be here in 50 years when I’m passed and gone, that’s my biggest thing,” he said. “What can I do so that the community will have farming in the county?”

As for how he plans to spend his time post-sale, Dakin said he plans to remain heavily involved in the agriculture community: “Retirement is not in my wheelhouse,” he said.

Sarasota is No. 4!

As a company whose motto is “You. Your Neighbors. Your Neighborhood.” of course we were interested in a study that deemed Sarasota No. 4 on its list of the 25 “most neighborly” cities.

In fact, Sarasota topped the list with the highest population change among the top 25 cities, showing that despite the area’s growth since the pandemic, it has still maintained its neighborliness. Sarasota was the only Florida city to make the list.

Sarasota was ranked the fourth most nieghborly city in the country.
File image

The list, created by Neighbor, a storage sharing marketplace based in Lehi, Utah, ranked cities based on metrics including philanthropy, volunteer work and crime rates. The 100 largest metro areas in the country were analyzed using a combination of survey responses and data from the U.S. government and consumers.

The other cities in the top five were Madison, Wisconsin; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Rochester, New York. 

Of course, despite the neighborly data, the story provided fodder on Facebook for those who disagree. The post garnered loads of engagement on the Observer’s Facebook page, with 603 comments and a range of sentiments.

One of the more interesting ones: “I visited recently and thought it was nice … until the older man on a bike flipped us off!”

And in what is no doubt rare praise for this sector of city government, another lauded Sarasota’s “parking authority.” “Very friendly,” the commenter said. “Makes me want to visit local businesses and support them. Thank you, parking mafia for all you do.”


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