The City of Sarasota's Historic Preservation Board voted unanimously yesterday to deny a demolition permit that would see the commercial Mira Mar plaza on Palm Avenue replaced with a 10-story, mixed-use commercial and residential project.
At the meeting, demolition applicants Matthew Leake and Patrick Dipinto III of the local firm Seaward Development presented their project and findings. Engineers revealed extensive damage and neglect throughout the 100-year-old buildings (they are two buildings attached by a bridge), including undersized foundations, corroded structural wood wall studs, irregular framing and more. Repairs would cost roughly $22 million and take more than two years to complete, a time period during which tenants would have to vacate the property, the applicants said.
The Sarasota County Property Appraiser found the property to be worth just over $2 million. The price tag for Seaward's purchase of the Mira Mar has not been disclosed; the purchase is slated to be finalized later this year.
The applicants intend on replicating the Mira Mar with a similar style in their new structure. "We commit to using historical consultants and architects who specialize in Mediterranean Revival style to restore a new building that is safe and that honors its history," said Leake, Seaward's president.
Beyond the unsafe, neglected conditions, the applicants questioned the true historical significance of the Mira Mar, due to multiple remodels over the years that stripped it of original historic design elements.
But City of Sarasota senior planner Clifford Smith said the Mira Mar is indeed eligible for national and local designation as historic. He also said that because the architecture has been altered by past repairs, "you can be more flexible with renovations because you're not having to preserve an original historical feature."
Following Seaward's presentation, 10 speakers spoke in protest of the demolition, many citing concerns over the potential loss of charm and character that set Sarasota apart from larger nearby metro areas.
Current Mira Mar owner Mark Kauffman bought the property in 1989 for nearly $1.8 million. Roughly 40 commercial tenants, including Seaward, operate out of the plaza.
Although he wasn't present at the meeting, Kauffman issued a written statement that highlighted his support for demolition in the face of extensive and costly repairs that aren't financially feasible. Letting the property go feels like "the same pain as losing a child to marriage. Happy/sad progress,” Kauffman wrote in his statement. “If demolition is not allowed, we will allow leases to run out over the next two years, then close the building and fence it off, and allow it to decay as we cannot afford the repairs anymore."
Longtime Mira Mar tenant Jana Marie Gouwens was among the public speakers. “When you buy a historic building, you have a duty to uphold it, because we all cherish it," she said. "There are 40 unique small businesses there—an ecosystem of its own that will be taken away if it's demolished.”
Other speakers questioned the accuracy of a rendering of the applicants' proposed replacement for the building, since the illustration did not show the 10-story building Seaward wants to build.
If the applicants appeal the Historic Preservation Board's decision, the matter will go before the City Commission. The applicants could then further appeal a City Commission decision to a court if they wish.
"The threat of neglect if a building permit is not approved is appalling," said Erin DeFazio, a restoration designer and realtor specializing in historic homes who is also the president of the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation. "Salvage of historic building elements for private gain is in no way mitigation to the loss that the community feels when a significant building is lost."