Up & Down the Trail

| April 1, 2016

By Roger Drouin

Home builder announces Senate bid

The race to replace U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio just got more crowded. Manatee County developer Carlos Beruff confirmed through a campaign video released on Youtube recently that he will run for the senate seat to be vacated by Rubio, joining a field that already included four congressman, a business executive and the state's lieutenant governor. The move made him the first Senate candidate from Southwest Florida since the failed 2006 bid of former congresswoman Katherine Harris.

The Republican field for the U.S. Senate already includes Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, U.S. Reps. Ron DeSantis and David Jolly, and businessman Todd Wilcox. The Democratic field includes U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson.

Food Truck ordinance delayed to May 5

When it comes to food truck regulation, unincorporated Sarasota County is more restrictive than the city, but that could change in the next few months. At county staff’s request, the Sarasota County Planning Commission agreed Feb. 18 to continue the matter of a new food truck ordinance until May 5.

At the Feb. 18 Planning Commission meeting, county staff told planning commission members that staff was seeking a continuance on the new county food truck ordinance. The Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the request for the continuance. The May 5 session would be held in Sarasota.

Back on Oct. 27, 2015, county Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson won unanimous approval from the County Commission to schedule a public hearing on a revised ordinance that would provide more flexibility for food truck operations. During that session, she cautioned the board that it was unknown how long it would take to reach that point, because Thompson was still working with interested parties to finalize the ordinance’s language. Among the stakeholders are the SRQ Food Truck Alliance — made up of 20 mobile vendors operating throughout the region— restaurant owners and representatives of the hospitality industry and chambers of commerce. The latter three groups had seen the draft she brought before the board that day, she added.

Currently, the county confines vendors’ carts to 10 feet by 20 feet and four wheels, according to the county’s municipal code, and mandates they operate at least 800 feet from an established restaurant and 750 feet from another mobile vendor. Proponents say food trucks offer culinary options for residents and vacationers, yet don’t compete with established restaurants, because they offer limited seating and a strictly outdoors setting. Opponents of food trucks cite concerns about cleanliness, unfair competition with nearby restaurants, aesthetics and pedestrian safety in arguments against mobile street vendors.

Last year, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce and two other island organizations fought a food-truck permit application in the Village, citing those concerns.

County Wins Keep America Beautiful Award

Keep Sarasota County Beautiful received the 2015 Keep America Beautiful President's Circle Award at Keep America Beautiful's recent national conference in Orlando. The award recognizes exemplary performance made by certified affiliates of the national nonprofit in creating clean, green and beautiful communities. 

Developer buys abandoned golf course

Mattamy Homes, a Canadian developer, has purchased an abandoned Sarasota golf course. If built, the project would continue the local trend of golf greens that are slated for or have become residential developments.

The Canadian homebuilder purchased the closed, 115-acre Sunrise Golf Club for $14.3 million last month. The abandoned course is located southeast of the Clark Road and I-75 interchange. The course has been closed for more than a decade. The clubhouse, long boarded up, was recently torn down.

Mattamy Homes has partnered with Sarasota-based Vanguard Land Ventures to redevelop the property.

New hotel approved near airport

A proposed Home 2 Suites by Hilton hotel would add 110 rooms in the vicinity of the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. Last month, the Manatee County Commission unanimously approved Excel Sarasota's plan to construct the four-story hotel on the front portion of a five-acre site on the west side of U.S. 41 that already has a 115-room Hilton Garden Inn.

Tourism officials in Sarasota and Manatee counties have repeatedly said the region needs more hotel rooms, especially when sports venues such as Nathan Benderson Park, IMG Academy and Premier Sports Campus have special tournaments and other events.

Hyatt Place at Lakewood Ranch breaks ground

Another hotel, the Hyatt Place Lakewood Ranch, is slated to open to guests in January. The developer, Floridays Development Co., broke ground on the project March 9.

The five-floor, 122-room hotel at 6021 Exchange Way will overlook Interstate 75 near the intersection of University Parkway. The Hyatt Place Lakewood Ranch is expected to attract a crowd of business and sports-related travelers, with its location near Nathan Benderson Rowing Park, the Sarasota Polo Club and the corporate centers in the area. The 75,000 square foot hotel is slated to open as early as January. The hotel will feature a restaurant and bar as well as an outdoor pool area with a bar, cabanas and fire pits.

Floridays also has construction underway downtown on Hotel Sarasota. The boutique-style hotel, which is near the Palm Avenue Garage, should be open to guests this time next year.

Mojo's opens in Lakewood Ranch

Mojo’s Real Cuban hosted a Cuban-style ribbon-cutting and grand opening event last month. The restaurant is being marketed as “a taste of Old Cuba with a modern twist.” 

Sarasota County OK’s seed money for UF program

The distance between University of Florida and Sarasota just narrowed. Over the next five years, Sarasota County will pay $1 million to fund an academic partnership with the University that supporters say could transform the local economy.

On March 18, the Sarasota County Commission approved the $1 million in seed money to start an outreach program with the University's College of Engineering. County commissioners approved the partnership open an “Innovation Station,” in which the school’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering can partner with local schools and businesses in an ambitious economic development initiative. The funds will help pay for office space and three employees.

The “Innovation Station Sarasota County” will be an engineering tech center designed to encourage local students into UF's engineering program, provide internships and support start-up businesses. The program will be the first physical extension of UF's Florida Engineering Experiment Station (FLEXStation), affording businesses and entrepreneurs unprecedented access to tech workforce talent, applied research, faculty and intellectual property.

“The University of Florida is grateful for the opportunity to share its resources and talents,” UF President Kent Fuchs said in a news release from the University. “Economic and workforce development are among our highest priorities, and we are pleased to be a partner in building an even brighter future for the residents, business owners and entrepreneurs of Sarasota County.”

"This is a major investment in our economic future as a region," Sarasota County Commission Chairman Alan Maio said in the release.

Unemployment rate shows slight increase

Unemployment in Southwest Florida increased in January from the previous month, but the rate remained well below year-ago levels.

The combined jobless rate in Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties reached 4.9 percent to start the new year, up from 4.5 percent in December and likely reflecting post-holiday layoffs of seasonal workers.

But the rate was under the 5.7 percent posted a year earlier, as the region added 9,300 jobs in a variety of industries over the past 12 months, data recently released by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity showed.

The three-county region also beat the Florida unemployment rate of 5 percent, which was down from 5.1 percent in December and from 5.7 percent one year earlier.

Harbor Acres home tops $5 million

A 1950 house at 1201 Hillview Drive in Sarasota’s Harbor Acres sold in March at $5.25 million, a sale that came out to $1,406 a square foot. Most of the value is in the land for this home that looks out on bay waters and the city’s skyline. The home was designed as the Burnette Residence by Ralph Twitchell and Paul Rudolph and built in 1950. As thus, it is a landmark of the Sarasota School of midcentury modern architecture. The home was remodeled in the mid-1990s.

According to Zillow.com, the home sits on .48 acres of waterfront land. The home has three bedrooms and three-and-a-half baths in 3,732 square feet. The home last sold in 1970, for $78,200.

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