With local real estate booming, it was just a matter of time before the Fillmore parking lot on St. Armands Circle would catch a developer's attention.
John Meshad, Gavin Meshad and Dennis McGillicuddy presented their plan for a mixed-use project on the two-acre site at a Sarasota City Commission meeting on May 17. At that meeting, commissioners voted 4-1 to continue the conversation and directed city attorney Robert Fournier to provide the developers with a roadmap for the steps they would have to take to move their four-story vision forward.
The proposed project includes a 98-room hotel, six townhomes and a 15,000-square-foot Morton’s Market–the first grocer on the circle in decades–plus 270 covered public parking spaces to replace the ones currently on the site.
At the meeting, a rendering of the project illustrated that the lower level of the public parking garage would connect to the grocery store. Six 2,100-square-foot townhomes would be three stories high and come with private garages. Outside the building there would be a public plaza with water features and public seating; a rooftop would have a pool, hot tub, private cabanas, bar and fitness center accessible only to hotel guests and townhome residents. There would also be public bathrooms and aesthetic elements–the design would hide overhead power lines, a drainage ditch, and dumpsters that are visible today. Once finished, the developers said they intended to turn the 270 parking spaces back to the City of Sarasota.
But for the project to gain legs, the site would require a zoning change from governmental to a commercial tourist zoning designation. In a memo following the May 17 meeting, Fournier noted that the St. Armands Business Improvement District has submitted a pre-application for an amendment to the city's comprehensive plan to allow for hotels with a density of 50 units per acre, and a height limit increase from 35 to 45 feet. Project developer Gavin Meshad sits on its board.
But it’s all preliminary, with hurdles to overcome. Before the project could commence, the development team would have to secure a series of land use and site plan approvals from the city and hold multiple public hearings with local associations and residents.
At the May presentation meeting, John Meshad said, “We simply wanted to start the game with a serve and see what the community response is. We're not trying to force this on anybody. The circle is not what it used to be, and we think it needs a facelift."
The lack of competing proposals for the lot purchase and development was also raised.
Theirs is the only project pitch. Commissioners and public commentators at the May meeting discussed the possibility of soliciting bids from other parties, but that hasn’t been pursued. The developer trio offered fair market value for the city-owned lot, a number that would be determined by a city-ordered appraisal.
But in the memo provided by Fournier following the May meeting, he indicated that the city is not legally bound to send out a request for proposals since there is no requirement for municipalities to do so when negations are initiated by a development team. Carl Shoffstall, president of the Lido Key Residents Association, said in a phone interview, "They should put it out to bid so the city will get more money. Once it's gone, it's gone forever."
Noise and traffic were also among the top concerns for area residents.
Some comments at the May meeting echoed earlier community sentiment that struck down the use of "hotel houses" in the area–short-term vacation rental homes that host up to a dozen guests. Lana Owens, who lives on Adams Lane, across from the proposal site, referred to the project as “a hotel house on steroids.”
And Longboat Key mayor Ken Schneier said, "The artist rendering is beautiful, but my biggest concern is traffic." He also highlighted the results of an annual survey the community completed in January, in which 1,600 residents participated. "Of 300 or 400 people who included specific comments, they said they'd likely move due to the traffic," he said.
But Giulia Salustri of Le Colonne restaurant, which has been on the Circle for 25 years, disagreed.
“It's too bad that we are surrounded by people who don't want traffic and don't want sound. It's ridiculous that there's no grocery store. Traffic is part of life. It's part of our evolution," she said in a phone interview.
Sparring with area residents is a hurdle Gavin Meshad has tripped over before. In 2019, he was part of the developer group hired to complete the long-awaited renovation of the City of Sarasota’s landmark Lido Beach Pavilion. The plan included a splash pad, three playgrounds, a tiki bar, recreation lawn and 40 additional seats to an existing 160-seat restaurant. But the project was derailed by residents who feared it would cause too much noise and traffic.
The grocery store portion of the project seemed to appeal to residents most at the meeting, and it was argued that its location would help offset traffic from those forced to travel to Sarasota for weekly essentials. But even that didn't sway everyone.
"People are focused on the grocery store. I've been here for 20 years. I've always wanted to see some kind of convenience store here. But I don't know if we have enough full-time residents and people here in the summer to support one that size," Schoffstall said in a phone interview.
For now, the fate of the Fillmore parking lot site is still mostly a conversation, and it remains to be seen whose voices will be loudest.
On Aug. 5 at 5:30 p.m., the City of Sarasota Planning Department is holding an online community workshop to discuss an amendment to the comprehensive plan, brought forth by the St. Armands Business Improvement District. The amendment would allow for an increase in building height limitations from 35 to 45 feet in commercial tourist zoning to "help incentivize landowners to create residential and tourist-oriented housing within the Commercial Tourist zone district." While the meeting doesn't reference the Fillmore mixed-use project proposal, 45 feet is the height of the proposed hotel.
Citizens who wish to comment at the Aug. 5 meeting can pre-register by emailing [email protected] by noon on Tuesday, Aug. 3, and provide your name, address, phone number and email address. For viewing only, click here and select "View Event" or "Video."