Payne Park Percolating

A Mixed-Use Project Is Headed to the Corner of Oak Street and U.S. 301

The mixed townhome and retail space project, called Payne Park Townhomes, will see the demolition of a building with an architectural legacy and a former community hub for those in recovery.

By Kim Doleatto December 13, 2023

A preliminary rendering of the Payne Park Townhomes project, located at 537 S. Washington Blvd. in Sarasota.

The rental market is mushrooming. Across from a new apartment building development headed to the corner of Adams Lane and U.S. 301 comes another long-term rental development. 

This one’ll look a little different, though. Located on the east side of U.S. 301, just west of Payne Park between Laurel Street to the north and Oak Street to the south, next to the Ford dealership, this project will be comprised of townhomes and won’t include affordable housing in exchange for more density. Like its neighbor across the street, however, it's also located in an opportunity zone, incentivizing investors and developers with certain tax breaks to spur economic development.

And like the other apartment project, it will bring quite a change to that part of town, which hasn't seen development for decades. Before breaking ground, the new project, called Payne Park Townhomes, will demolish several older buildings that, at this point, have seen better days.

One of the buildings, which is more like a house, was the Gratitude Club. From 2006 until September of this year, it was ground zero for thousands of support meetings serving the recovery community. Those meetings spanned Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Dharma Recovery, SMART Recovery, Al-Anon and more—all free of charge. The club and its building survived due to donations and volunteer muscle. Open to everyone, it operated seven days a week, 16 hours a day and always had a volunteer to welcome whoever entered. 

The Gratitude Club will soon be demolished to make way for the new project.

Image: Kim Doleatto

Gratitude Club managing director Chuck Merritt, 81, can’t be sure how many people went through the building's doors in all, but the number is “astronomical, I’m sure," he says. "There were roughly 50 meetings a week, and one meeting could bring eight to 80 people.” 

“So many people came here with their lives upside down, looking for a new beginning. We helped them gain their confidence and get their lives back. You’re around people facing the same challenges, and feeling less alone is so important in recovery. It worked for me,” says Merritt, who was on the brink of homelessness and dealing with addiction when he first walked through the Gratitude Club's doors. He has now been sober for 15 years. 

As a fixture of the recovery community, the Gratitude Club was a central location where people also donated clothing and food. There was a bulletin board for job and housing postings, and the club regularly hosted sober events to provide a safe space for those avoiding alcohol or drugs who wanted to meet people and socialize. Merritt says the rent for the nonprofit was fixed at roughly $3,000 a month. "[The building] was older and needed a lot of patches on it, but it saved lives,” he says.

The Gratitude Club was also within walking distance of many institutions that provide drug treatment, oversee drug-related offenses and monitor probation, like drug court, the courthouse, the hospital, First Step and the jail. While the Gratitude Club wasn't formally connected with any of them, people leaving them often found comfort at the club.

The building sits on roughly two acres of land that its longtime owner sold on June 7 for $7.5 million. The buyer is Fort Lauderdale-based PTM Partners, a real estate investment management and development firm. Payne Park Townhomes is the company's first foray into the Sarasota market, and it has spearheaded larger mixed-use projects in Miami, St. Petersburg, Washington, D.C., and Woodbridge, Virginia.

Payne Park Townhomes will span 120,000 square feet and bring 50 rental townhomes, plus retail space, to the site. The townhomes will be a mix of three- and four-story units, each with a garage, flex room, three bedrooms, three bathrooms and private terraces, some of them rooftop. The project will have more than 10,000 square feet of amenity space, including a spa and pool, an indoor and outdoor fitness facility, as well as roughly 7,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space. PTM Partners is expected to break ground on the development in mid-2024 and has a target completion date of fall 2025.

On its east side, the parcel sits on a historic brick road called Payne Parkway, which is flanked by a duck-dotted pond, all hidden behind the bustle of one the city’s busiest thoroughfares. Plans are to retain it.

Payne Parkway, which will border the project on the east side.

Image: Kim Doleatto

Nicholas Pantuliano, co-founder and chief development officer of PTM Partners says the project aims to embrace its natural setting “where we could have a brownstone-type setup, but more contemporary," he explains. "We want to create a center amenity area with a pool and native plant landscaping, and take in elements of the park.” The part of the project fronting South Washington Boulevard will house its retail and commercial components and possibly have a small business center in the lobby, but plans for the site design are not yet finalized. 

Pantuliano says it’s too early to share what rents will be, but that they will be market rate. The project will cost upwards of $30 million, he estimates.

Other than the Gratitude Club, the preservation and architecture community is mourning the Waldman Building, which is located on the same site. The two-story building on the site fronts on South Washington Boulevard, and was designed by renowned Sarasota School of Architecture great Victor Lundy in 1957 for Harry and Esther Waldman. It included retail space, offices and a large dance studio and ballroom, but has seen various tenants over the years. Most recently, its signature octagonal glass storefront displayed formal pageant and evening gowns as Barbie’s Boutique, which has since moved.

A signature Lundy sculptural building, the two-story main elevation is broken into three bays with floor-to-ceiling glass that wraps around half of the side elevations. Two second-floor bays protrude outward from the first floor, creating a shady overhang below, and the rear walls are stacked Ocala block. Now vacant, the building has suffered from long-term deferred maintenance. 

The Waldman Building was designed by Sarasota School great, Victor Lundy.

Image: Brian Jones

The City of Sarasota approved and issued the demolition permit for the building on Oct. 26. The building was not required to be reviewed by the city's Historic Preservation Board, as just one of the seven buildings on the permit was eligible for local or national historic designation, according to city officials. That structure was determined to be beyond reasonable repair by a structural engineer.

Pantuliano echoes this. “We couldn't do anything with it. We looked at relocation. If we can incorporate something in a site, we do," he says. "We couldn't put hurricane glass on it, and the structure couldn't be reinforced. It also has water issues and termite damage."

The irony of losing a Lundy-designed landmark this year isn’t lost on those who recognize his genius and impact on Sarasota’s built environment. 

“This year's MOD Weekend, Architecture Sarasota honored Victor Lundy who had an impact on architecture globally," says  Morris “Marty” Hylton, president of Architecture Sarasota. "The Waldman Building demonstrates Lundy's sculptural approach to form and space-making. It's one of the few remaining examples of his commercial work locally. It's unfortunate that his landmark building is not being adaptively used and incorporated into the new design."

It was also among this year's Six to Save, an initiative by the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation that highlights local historic buildings under threat in hopes of saving them. Next time you're driving down Washington Boulevard, be sure to give it a second look.

To help the Gratitude Club find a new location, email [email protected]. The club has started a GoFundMe to support its search for a new home.

Show Comments