Commercial tenants of the Mira Mar plaza are on a rollercoaster.
Roughly 40 tenants at the Mira Mar plaza in downtown Sarasota are once again faced with uncertainty following an email they recently received from Red Property Management, which oversees the historic commercial property for its owners, Miramar Plaza Associates LTD.
After a previous denial for demolition by applicant Seaward Development, and a July 28 notification to tenants that read, "The Mira Mar Plaza will continue under current ownership," tenants received yet another notification on Monday, that read “at some point in the near future, the landlord intends to pick up where Seaward left off in applying for a demolition permit."
"As a business owner, I'm tired of the drama," says Jana Marie Gouwens, an eight-year tenant and owner of Viziato By Jana Marie Esthetics. "It's a costly move for us and would easily put some of us out of business to start over in a new space."
Seaward Development, a tenant in the 100-year-old building, had plans to build a mixed-use, 10-story project in its place. On June 14, the demolition application was denied by the City of Sarasota's Historic Preservation Board. Seaward subsequently withdrew an appeal that would have gone before city commissioners, and the purchase of the plaza was halted altogether. One of the main arguments for demolishing the building pointed to potentially unsafe conditions that would cost roughly $22 million to remedy–an amount that far exceeded the value of the historic plaza.
Riding on the same argument, the latest email tenants received denied the building's historic value, stating that the landlord would have to “rebuild the building from the inside out,” one section at a time—requiring tenants to vacate during the work. The email goes on to reiterate previous claims that the costs associated with doing so would surpass the value of the building itself, making it not “financially feasible.”
However, the email also stated that "the landlord will continue to keep the building running in a safe manner (monitored closely by our professional structural engineers) to the extent it is reasonably fiscally prudent."
Some historic preservation experts question the $22 million price tag for bringing the building up to modern-day safety codes.
"It's a historic building, so it doesn't have to be brought to code," says Erin DiFazio, president of the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation, who met with the landlord in hopes of finding solutions to maintain the building. Various incentives and tax credits are available to help property owners with repair costs for commercial, nationally designated historic structures.
But "if the goal is profiting off a 10-story tower, Mira Mar will never produce that kind of income," DiFazio continues. "The current owners are still concerned that the output is too much to be worth it."
Lorrie Muldowney, immediate past president of the alliance, says, "I think it's important to realize numbers are preliminary, and a frequent oversight in this process is understanding that there is flexibility in the code for historically designated buildings. It's up to staff to closely scrutinize that."
The landlord seeking a demolition permit would have to present their application to the City of Sarasota Historic Board. If denied, the applicant would have to appeal the decision with city commissioners.
According to Jan Thornburg, City of Sarasota senior communications manager, the Historic Preservation Board would be required to review a future demolition application because of the historic status of the Mira Mar structures.
No specific time frame for selling the building was shared with tenants. In the meantime, Gouwens says, "I will be regathering my troops, and we’ll write the city commission to urge them to preserve this bit of history we all love."