Walk This Way

Gillespie Park Is Proof That Walkability Can Turn a Neighborhood Around

Check out the block of brightly colored cottages on Seventh Street between Goodrich and Orange avenues and you’ll see a neighborhood literally coming back to life.

By Robert Plunket March 5, 2020 Published in the March 2020 issue of Sarasota Magazine

Homes with lots of character fill Gillespie Park.

Image: Jenny Acheson

An incredible walkability factor can turn a neighborhood around. Just look at Gillespie Park. A square-mile grid of duplexes and shabby cottages just north of Fruitville Road, it was always on the verge of shedding its unsafe, transient atmosphere and becoming a decent place to live. But it never quite happened.

Now, with downtown and the Rosemary District booming, Gillespie Park has finally come into its own. Gone are the sleazy characters hanging around the park, or at least most of them, and that infamous house on Tenth Street that belonged to Sarasota’s most notorious drug dealer has been all gussied up and would look right at home in Key West. Driving—sorry, walking—around Gillespie Park today, you can see the corner has definitely been turned.

One of Gillespie Park's characterful homes

Image: Jenny Acheson

A modern home

Image: Jenny Acheson 

Practically all the cottages have been snapped up and renovated. People are even starting to do interesting thing with the plain old concrete duplexes. But the big news is all the new construction. Most of the homes are two-story, done in a modernistic style that complements the neighborhood, with interesting details of stone and ironwork. Many have garages in back, with an apartment above. They start around half a million. A nicely remodeled cottage will be a little less.

Gillespie Park reverses the idea of a walkable neighborhood. Instead of commercial activity at its center, it’s all around the edges. And what commercial activity. The southern edge is downtown, with all its amenities literally across the street. The western edge is the hip new Rosemary District, and you can feel the energy of the two suddenly desirable neighborhoods feeding off each other. On the eastern edge, North Washington Boulevard, you’ll find a little bit of everything, including a Popeye’s, a Mexican grocery store and a Buddhist Temple (if you’re fit enough to run across U.S. 301).

Nearby Mandeville Beer Garden

Image: Jenny Acheson 

Who lives in Gillespie Park? They’re a mixed crew of newcomers and longtime Sarasotans, all of whom revel in the atmosphere of diversity and progressive thought. Kim Ogg and her husband, Matt, are among this group. They were probably the first people to build a new expensive home here, in a choice location overlooking the park. They and their neighbors—a yoga instructor, an actor from Asolo Rep, an eye doctor, a college professor or two, a retired couple who love to fix up old houses, and several gay couples—have worked with the city to improve the walkability of the neighborhood, with things like sidewalks, landscaping, parking and safety being the main concerns. “You can actually live here without a car,” Ogg says, “and, yes, people do.”

A charming front porch

Image: Jenny Acheson

Gillespie Park’s emergence as a walkable neighborhood is somewhat ironic; for years the one thing you were not supposed to do was walk there, particularly after dark. Now people walk like crazy—to the 10-acre park complete with tennis courts, lake, ducks to feed and statues of revolutionary heroes like Simon Bolivar. There’s an exercise trail and even a dog park. But the real charm of the place lies in the houses themselves. Check out the block of brightly colored cottages on Seventh Street between Goodrich and Orange avenues and you’ll see a neighborhood literally coming back to life.

Worth Walking To

Regal Hollywood 11

Popular cineplex featuring first-run movies. 1993 Main St.

Siegfried’s Restaurant and German Biergarten

Authentic German food and charming backyard picnic area. Dinner only. 1869 Fruitville Road.

The Crystal Cave

New Age crystals and gifts, plus classes and workshops. 1899B Fruitville Road.

Real Estate Sampler

High: 1775 Seventh St.

3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1796 square feet. New, deluxe features, pool. $749,900.

Low: 1680 Sixth St.

1 bedroom, 1 bath, 735 square feet. Older cottage home, tear it down or remodel. $249,000


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