News Up & Down the Trail

| November 1, 2015

By Roger Drouin and Debbie Flessner

Gator invasion
Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to a home invasion — of sorts — Oct. 12 in Osprey. A man found a gator next to the computer in his office and called for help.

Good thing it was an alligator less than three feet long. Animal Services Officer Lauren Campbell said the creature was released into a nearby lake. No one knows how the gator got inside the home or how long it had been there. The home did not have a pet door. 

The Osprey resident called deputies before 2 p.m. to report that he had found the reptile in his home on the 100 block of Villa Drive.

One of the South’s Best
The Sarasota Farmers Market, long a staple of downtown, was listed in Southern Living magazine as one of the “South’s best farmers markets.”

Going strong since 1979, the downtown farmers market now includes more than 70 vendors and over 5,000 square feet of produce and plants, according to the Farmers Market’s website.

The Saturday market runs from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. along Lemon Avenue from First Street to Pineapple Avenue and along the intersecting portion of State Street.

Applebee’s on Main closes
After 18 years on Main Street, Applebee’s has closed its doors. Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill and Bar closed Sept. 30.  The 5,835-square-foot space at 1991 Main Street was home to Applebee’s since 1997, when the Sarasota Main Plaza opened.

The 8.6-acre Sarasota Main Plaza has been listed for sale since last summer by Cushman & Wakefield.  The existing 253,504-square-foot plaza could be renovated, or with Downtown Core zoning and a central location in the heart of the city, it can be razed to clear way for a new development with condos, a hotel or other commercial uses.

New Orange and Main roundabout
Downtown Sarasota’s newest roundabout has opened to traffic.  The Orange Avenue/Main Street intersection was partially reopened to traffic at the end of September, and on Oct. 19 it opened completely. The project was completed ahead of the anticipated Nov. 11 completion date — and before many seasonal residents and visitors return.

During the final weeks of construction work, crews worked to finalize many details including completion of the new sidewalks, landscaping, landscape irrigation system, and installation of a decorative fence and bricks within the interior of the roundabout — where a public art piece will be placed at a later date.

The intersection was closed at the end of July, and most of the closure time was necessary while crews worked beneath the intersection making significant utility improvements.

“The intersection will be safer for vehicles and pedestrians and more efficient,” said Richard Winder, City of Sarasota Project Manager. “We thank the downtown businesses for their patience.”

City staff and employees with the contractor worked closely with merchants to lessen the construction impact as much as possible, including modifying the hours of construction, providing progress updates, and offering complimentary valet parking to the public, according to the city of Sarasota.

As part of the project, decorative bricks were installed around the roundabout and in the crosswalks, and new concrete curbs and driveways poured. By the numbers:

• 27,700 – Bricks installed

• 10,000 square feet – Concrete poured

• 1,500 linear feet – Curbs poured.

Cafe in the Park
Payne Park’s “Café in the Park” has now been open for just over a year.

The café, located at 2010 Adams Lane, next to the skate park, is located right in the middle of downtown Sarasota’s Payne Park in space that is leased out by the city. Café in the Park captures the spirit of the great tradition of the Urban Cafe Terrace. The café serves pressed sandwiches featuring locally-baked artisan bread, salads, and espresso drinks, among other items.  It opened in October of last year.

Funnel cloud flips truck
Talk about a close call. In Manatee County on Oct. 11 a tractor-trailer driven by a U.S. Post Office contractor was flipped over by funnel cloud approaching from the west.

There were no reported injuries. According to the Florida Highway Patrol: Randall Leaver, 56, of Wesley Chapel was driving northbound at 9:45 a.m. at mile marker 7.5, approaching the Sunshine Skyway bridge, when a waterspout approached from the west and crossed the roadway.

The funnel cloud lifted the truck and turned it onto its side.  The truck was then picked up a second time and placed upright. A nearby construction site was also damaged, a small boat was overturned and multiple road sign were knocked over.

The close call was captured on video by a nearby motorist.

Agreement approved for Ringling Blvd. site
The Sarasota City Commission on Oct. 4 unanimously approved a settlement agreement with the owners of the Ringling Shopping Center. The agreement could end a legal battle triggered after the city’s 2013 rejection of a proposed Walmart at the site.

The site, located at 2260 Ringling, is a parcel of 9.7 acres in a key locale just on the edge of downtown. The agreement approved last month, and reached during mediation between the city and the family of property owner Louis Doyle, outlines three possible scenarios for the lot sitting largely vacant since its major tenants left and the city rejected plans for the Walmart.

The options include: renovating the existing Ringling Shopping Center structure on the property; redeveloping the site under the existing Commercial Shopping Center Neighborhood zoning; or redeveloping it under the Downtown Edge/Downtown Neighborhood Edge zoning proposed by the city.

A change in zoning would allow residential construction and a mixed-use development. Continued on The center was once anchored by a Publix supermarket that has since moved to a locale fronting U.S. 41. Before it closed in 2011, the store in the Ringling Shopping Center was the oldest operating grocery in the Publix chain.

University mall plans revealed
Developers are planning to bring an upscale movie theater to University Town Center area.  The theater will anchor a development at the southeast quadrant of the property owned by Benderson Development Co. at University Parkway and Interstate 75.

The announcement was part of a celebration last month to mark the one-year anniversary of the mall at University Town Center. Officials with Benderson Development and Taubman, which partnered on the project, along with several mall retailers gathered to celebrate the anniversary and look ahead to the future of the corridor at University Parkway and I-75.

The concept is to turn the space near the planned theater into an entertainment district, said Benderson’s executive director of leasing. Three hotels, and housing, along with more shops and restaurants also are in the works for the area surrounding the new University Town Center mall. Most recently, Benderson broke ground on a 133-room Hilton Homewood Suites near the mall, at the intersection of DeSoto and Cattlemen roads, with plans to open in Fall 2016.

There’s been action inside the mall, too; the mall has added 25 stores since opening Oct. 16, 2014, including 18 since January. Additions include Anthropologie, Arhaus, Burger & Beer Joint, Fit2Run, Free People, H&M, Lucky, Kids Foot Locker, Microsoft and Yo! Sushi.

Gulf Coast Foundation names new CEO
The Gulf Coast Community Foundation announced a change in its leadership last month.

New president and CEO Mark Pritchett is replacing former CEO Teri A Hansen, who announced in March she would resign after 13 years. After finishing the fiscal year with Gulf Coast Community Foundation, Hansen stepped down from the position on June 30 and has since taken the role of CEO for a private family foundation.

The appointment follows a five month national search facilitated by executive-search firm Spencer Stuart and led by a committee of Gulf Coast Board members. “After a comprehensive, nationwide search, the Board identified Mark Pritchett as the best leader to advance Gulf Coast’s mission of transforming our region, together with our donors, through bold and proactive philanthropy,” Ben Hanan, Gulf Coast Board Chair, said in a press release.  At Gulf Coast Community Foundation, Prichett previously served as senior vice president for community investment, responsible for creating and implementing Gulf Coast’s strategies for grant-making and initiatives. He joined the Gulf Coast staff in 2008.

The Venice-based foundation is a leading fundraising and philanthropy community organization. In the first nine months that the GulfCoastGives.org website was live, thousands of citizen philanthropists donated more than $255,000 through the site to fund urgent charity projects practically in their own backyard.

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