June Up & Down the Trail

| June 1, 2017

County approves potion of Braves funding

The City of North Port could be playing ball soon, as plans for a spring training facility for the Atlanta Braves have advanced. The plan is to transform a 70-acre vacant lot into a state of the art spring training facility. It's a project with a $75 million dollar price tag, and last month Sarasota County commissioners voted to redirect tourism development taxes to pay a $22 million portion of that price tag. It's a decision they said won't come at the expense of any other tourism programs.

But the change to the tourist development tax is just one of several agreements that must be in place before the Braves move to North Port. The County Commission unanimously endorsed the plan to revise the distribution of the county’s tourist development tax, collected on overnight stays at hotel rooms and short-term rentals, to help pay for a little less than one-third of the planned $75.4 million stadium facilities at the West Villages.

The West Villages, where the facility is to be built, is applying for $20 million in state funding. They're also providing the property and infrastructure at a combined cost of about $ 15 million, according to media reports. As for the braves, they will pay about $7.5 million upfront for construction followed by annual lease payments. The City of North Port plans to pay about $4 to 5 million over several decades and finally, Sarasota County plans to pay about $22 million in tourism taxes for the facility.

LA Fitness coming to Westfield Southgate

LA Fitness is slated to fill the old Dillard’s storefront at Westfield Southgate mall, with a soft opening, as of press time, expected soon.

 In total, at least eight new retailers are in the works, there’s been no shortage of movement at the mall this year.

The shopping mall at U.S. 41 and Siesta Drive is midway through its transformation into a modern lifestyle and entertainment center. That began in 2013 with new fixtures and picked up momentum in 2015 when Westfield demolished the vacant Saks Fifth Avenue and built a Cobb CineBistro movie theater on that site. Now, the new LA Fitness is in the works, and the chain has been retrofitting the old Dillard’s property. The mall also has five restaurant spaces, a day spa and a new coffee shop under construction. Meanwhile, Benderson Development Co., which owns the old Dillard’s anchor, has a Lucky’s Market in the works adjacent to the LA Fitness.

The new LA Fitness will join an existing LA Fitness five miles away on Cattlemen Road.

Bayfront home fetches $4.7 M

A home in Oyster Bay Estates, on Sarasota Bay, netted a $4.7 million sale price last month. Built in 1990, the home at 1124 N. Lake Shore Drive has three bedrooms, five-and-a-half baths, a pool and 5,723 square feet of living area. It previously sold for $2.3 million in 1997. The neighborhood of Oyster Bay Estates is one of the earliest waterfront luxury developments in Sarasota.

IT company chooses University Parkway

Another business is heading to the Sarasota area. ITelagen LLC, an IT support and hosting service for health care providers and practices, is establishing its new company headquarters at Honore Avenue, just south of University Parkway.

The New Jersey-based company, which is receiving up to $40,000 from a local economic incentive grant, says the new office includes 32 work stations at 5901 N. Honore Ave., the home of Sarasota County’s Integraclick Inc., an online marketing solutions company. The property includes a 6,000-square-foot game room/arcade, a 2,000-square-foot chef’s kitchen, a 2,000-square-foot café and a 3,000-square-foot gym with showers, ITelagen said. The building also includes a children’s daycare center and is next door to a Whole Foods and a Wawa that are under construction.

ITelagen also has offices in Jersey City, New Jersey, and Charlotte, North Carolina.

Brody and Ahearn-Koch sworn in

Attorney Hagen Brody and neighborhood leader Jen Ahearn-Koch emerged victorious in the May city election for two at-large seats on the City Commission. The two edged-out small business owner Martin Hyde, the third candidate to advance to the runoff election.

Several days after the election, Brody and Ahearn-Koch were sworn in at a City Commission meeting May 12. At the meeting, city commissioners also selected Shelli Freeland Eddie as mayor.

Annually, the board selects a new representative to hold the ceremonial title of mayor, and unanimously chose Freeland Eddie for the position. The commission selected Liz Alpert to serve as vice mayor. Eddie highlighted issues such as homelessness and the development of new zoning regulations as issues the board would have to work together to address during the next year.

During the election, Brody earned a vote from 74.6 percent of the 8,534 voters who participated in Tuesday’s election. Ahearn-Koch got 59.5 percent of the vote, and Hyde earned 36.5 percent. Voter turnout was 22.8 percent, nearly a 4 percent increase from the first election in March and higher than typical for run-off elections in the city.

Based on early voting and voting-by-mail, Sarasota County Elections Supervisor Ron Turner predicted above average turn-out for Sarasota before the results were in.

$250,000 in Grants and Scholarships Awarded

According to a press release, The Woman’s Exchange announced that it is awarding $250,000 to 18 arts and cultural organizations and 24 students pursuing a higher education in the arts. The monies used for this purposed were earned entirely through the organization’s 10,000 sq. ft. consignment operation, located at 539 S. Orange Avenue. The board based their decision on the long term stability and financial health of the organizations, the program’s overall appeal to the general public and the educational impact some of these same programs will have on area children. Scholarships are awarded based on grade point average, the individual’s artistic goals and achievements, as well as letters of recommendation.

The Woman’s Exchange believes that its grantees play a pivotal role in the economic health of our community, as well as the tourism industry. They provide inspiration and enjoyment to local residents and strengthen the social fiber of our community. It is the diversity of arts offered in Sarasota, which makes Sarasota such a wonderful place for all of its residents to live. Furthermore, it is the hope of the board of directors that students receiving financial support from the Exchange will aspire to be the next generation of cultural influence and bring joy to others for years to come.

The Woman’s Exchange has been supporting the local arts community for 55 years, awarding more than $8 million in financial funding.  In addition to the grants and scholarships awarded each year, the Exchange has paid local residents who consign their gently used merchandise through the organization’s consignment store more that $16 million over the past 9 years, further benefiting the local economy.  One of the area’s largest recyclers, the Woman’s Exchange, is a debt free non-profit organization. 

The Woman’s Exchange Grant Recipients for the 2017/2018 fiscal year are:

Arts and Cultural AllianceInspire Sarasota! A Celebration of Art…, Asolo Theatre, Inc.: Season Presenter, Florida Studio Theatre: Winter Cabaret Series, FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training: Dog Days Theatre, Gloria Musicae: Mass in B Minor, Key ChoraleHonoring Heroes, La Musica di Aslo: La Musica Educational Outreach, Perlman Music Program: Everyone Loves Classical Music, Players Theatre: Season Sponsor, Sarasota Ballet: The Secret Garden, Sarasota Opera: Youth Opera-Rootabaga Country, Sarasota Orchestra: Young Persons' Concerts 2017-18, Sarasota Pops: Concert Series 2017-18, Selby GardensUrbanite Theatre: Naming True by Natalie Symons, Van Wezel Foundation, Inc.:Additional  Instrumentalists-3 Concerts, The Venice Chorale: Additional  Instrumentalists-3 Concerts, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe: 2017-18 Mainstage Season

The Woman’s Exchange Scholarship Recipients for the 2017/2018 fiscal year are:

Victoria Byrd, Anthony DeNiro, Marie Dull, Zoe Ezechiels, Joshua Galindo, Melanie Gasparoni, Abigail Hodgson, David Klos, Tyler Mathis, Douglas Ortner, Rachael Querreveld, Haley Simmons, Anna Jane Trinci, Reed Tucker, Margaux Albiez, Sommer Altier, Marissa Brotz, Anthony Cali, Evianna Gianoplus; Coralie Jean-Marie, Madison Miller; Haley Rosenthal, Nina Vanucci, Hannah Jae Wasserman

First Gov. candidates gear up for 2018

The state’s next governor will succeed Gov. Rick Scott, who is forced to leave office next year because of term limits, and some of the first candidates vying for the post are gearing up for 2018.

On the Republican side, Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner, Adam Putnam, has filed papers to run for governor in 2018, making official what has been long expected. The 20-year office-holder was the first major Republican to enter the race. Since his 2014 re-election as agriculture commissioner, Putnam has been working quietly laying the foundation for a gubernatorial run.

Republican Usha Jain, physician and candidate for the Orange County Board of County Commissioners in 2016 also declared his candidacy.

Democratic former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee also geared up last month for a governor bid. Graham, 54, is the daughter of Bob Graham, the popular two-term governor and three-term U.S. senator from Florida. Graham was elected to Congress in 2014, narrowly defeating U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla. She declined to seek re-election last year after a court-mandated redistricting plan reshaped her district into a Republican bastion.

Democrats Andrew Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee, and businessman Chris King, also declared their candidacy, as of press time late last month.

St. Armand's aims for improved landscaping

St. Armands’ stakeholders plan to take the circle’s beautification into its own hands.

After months of negotiations with city staff, the St Armand's Business Improvement District (BID) is ready to ask the City Commission for its blessing to take over the responsibility of maintaining the median landscaping, according to media reports. The city would provide $72,000 annually to the BID to fund the maintenance, and spend another $80,000 as a one-time expense to restore the current landscaping.

The change came about after the BID voiced dissatisfaction with the city’s work managing the landscape in medians around St. Armands Circle.

Homes prices rise 6 percent

Local home prices continue to rise. Prices in the North Port-Sarasota-Venice market — factoring in distressed sales — rose 6 percent in March when compared with the same month in 2016, according to an analysis released recently by CoreLogic, a national data provider.

Month-to-month, prices, including distressed properties rose 0.6 percent from February to March.

Charlotte County saw prices rise 7.2 percent in the year-over-year measure and 0.4 percent month-to-month. Florida overall posted a year-over-year price gain of 6.6 percent, CoreLogic reported.

Nationwide, home prices rose 7.1 percent in the year-over-year measure and 1.6 percent in the month-to-month tally.

The Irvine, California-based data provider is predicting that home prices will rise by 4.9 percent from March 2017 to March 2018 and by 0.6 percent from March to April of this year. “Home prices posted strong gains in March 2017, and the CoreLogic Home Price Index is only 2.8 percent from its 2006 peak” at the height of the real estate boom, CoreLogic chief economist Frank Nothaft said in a news release last month. “With a forecasted increase of almost 5 percent over the next 12 months, the index is expected to reach the previous peak during the second half of this year.”

Wildfire largest in 20 years

During two days alone in May, a wildfire burned 4,000 acres east of North Port, according to media reports.

Forest Service officials said Sarasota County has not seen a wildfire of this magnitude in nearly 20 years. Fire departments from North Port, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee, DeSoto, and Collier counties, and strike teams from Gainesville, Jacksonville, Lake City, Myakka, and South Carolina Forestry battled the blaze, which is believed to be the biggest fire in Southwest Florida since around 1998. The fire had closed a portion of Interstate 75, near Toledo Blade Blvd, for a weekend, and officials expected it to take several weeks to fully contain the fire.

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