A revival of a project that would bring 210 affordable and attainably priced apartments to the site of a telephone call center and vacant industrial property just north of Fruitville Road continues to move through Sarasota's Development Review Committee.
Sarasota Station, the culmination of nearly a decadelong effort by a local champion of affordable housing, aims to be priced to be affordable to tenants at or below 80% of the area’s average median income. In 2020, the county's average median income was $32,535 for individuals and $64,644 for households, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The property address is 2211 Fruitville Road, but the site is one block removed at Third Street and Audubon Place. Active on the site is Vengroff Williams Inc., which is a call center, and breakfast and lunch diner Bob’s Train. The call center building will be demolished as part of the third phase of the project. Bob’s Train will remain.
The timing of the call center ceasing operation is a key point in the project development because that is referenced in the ordinance that approved the rezoning of the site. That’s roughly five years from the start of the project, but Stefan Baron, director of development for One Stop Housing, said as of now that’s a moving target.
“This is kind of a loose timeline for phase three,” Baron said. “Our goal is to build phase one, (have) full occupancy, stabilize the property and then start the remaining phases. But in terms of timeline, it's hard for me to commit.”
Committing to that timeline, though, will be subject to final DRC approval and will require further discussion with city staff.
The name Vengroff is well known in affordable housing circles in Sarasota. Harvey Vengroff, founder of developer One Stop Housing, was a pioneer in innovating affordable housing concepts.
In addition to running Vengroff Williams for a half-century, Vengroff, who died in 2018, was an entrepreneur who during his career acquired a distressed boat manufacturer and turned it into one of the largest in the country before he acquired a distressed construction company that built multiple nuclear power plants before selling the business to its employees, and also started more than a dozen new businesses.
One of those businesses, One Stop Housing, was created to provide housing for his and other companies’ employees.
Vengroff’s son, Mark, is managing partner of One Stop Housing.
Harvey Vengroff’s effort to build what is now Sarasota Station dates to 2015, when he scaled back to 400 an original plan to build 800 affordable apartments on industrial land he owned.
In March 2016, the Downtown Improvement District endorsed Vengroff’s ambition, and because of parking requirements imposed by city scaled back the project again in September, this time to 368 units. Three years and $300,000 after he started, in 2018 he abandoned the project citing rising fees and construction costs, making building and operating affordable housing in downtown impractical.
Finally in March 2021, One Stop Housing revived the project under the name Sarasota Station as providing affordable in the downtown zoning districts gained momentum. With additional changes required, the project is required go make a resubmittal to the DRC.