A former dead zone just north of downtown Sarasota will breathe new life thanks to Whitaker Lofts, a new collection of 19 condos in a building shaped like a quarter bundt cake. A very modern, sleek one in vanilla.

The empty lot at 1400 N. Tamiami Trail, right across the street from the three historic red brick buildings and courtyard that make up the Reserve Retreat café, restaurant and boutique hotel, will be the site of a four-story, 19-unit condominium. Across from the 14th Street roundabout and Whitaker Gateway Park in the Central Cocoanut neighborhood, it will sit on a .62-acre lot anchored by a grand oak tree being preserved in the design. The lot has been vacant for more than two decades on a stretch of the trail that's often considered blighted.

Whitaker Lofts is one of several improvements made along the North Trail in recent years, along with The Strand and The Embassy Suites at Fruitville Road. The City of Sarasota Planning Board approved the project in a 4-0 vote earlier this month.

Architect Michael Halflants of local architecture firm Halflants + Pichette bought the vacant lot in 2017 for $750,000, before the roundabout went in. "Now that it's in place, it becomes a pretty amazing opportunity," he says. The firm has designed several condo projects in the nearby Rosemary District. Halflants is also a Sarasota planning board member (he recused himself from the planning board agenda item since the project is one of his own). Team members Ana Meneses and Gabe Nisula led the presentation.

Jeffrey Oldenburg, owner of Indian Beach Plaza about 12 blocks north of the proposed project, was among a handful of public speakers who welcomed Whitaker Lofts.

“It's impeccably compatible. I have a lot of expertise in the revitalization of blighted areas. Tamiami is the gateway to the city and it's going to raise the level of what shall follow," he said.

Jessica Simmons, owner of the Reserve Retreat, said, "I couldn't imagine a better partnership across the street. I support it 100 percent."

Nine 900-square-foot garden units will each have 12-foot ceilings, plus a raised private yard facing the 75-foot diameter grand oak tree. The 10 1,550 square-foot loft units above will have two-story spaces with roof terraces; they'll open to a balcony overlooking Sarasota Bay. 

The bottom floor will house 8,400 square feet of retail space facing the trail and can be combined into two large or seven small spaces, depending on the vendor's needs.

Amenities tucked away behind the lofts and beneath the natural canopy will include a pool, spa and outdoor bar for residents. 

Additional café seating space will double portions of the sidewalk to a width of 18 fee—well above the current 8-foot requirement. A wide landscaped zone designed by award-winning landscape architect Michael Gilkey is also being proposed along the sidewalk. 

The project will take roughly 15 months to build, but Halflants expects to put units on the market in roughly six months. It's too early to announce pricing, he says, so stay tuned.

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