Going Green

By Hannah Wallace December 31, 2003

Frank Folsom Smith's planned office-hotel-retail complex at the entrance to Sarasota Bradenton International Airport will break new ground locally in the incorporation of green architecture.

With an emphasis on indoor air quality, day lighting to reduce energy demands and recycled building materials, SRQ Innovation Green will be designed to qualify as a high-performance, sustainable project under the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. And there will be an actual green-a nearly one-acre open space "like the center of a campus or small community," Smith says, that will function both for storm water retention and recreation.

The Folsom Group has signed a long-term lease with the airport authority for the 7.8-acre parcel, which will be developed in phases to eventually include 200,000 square feet of mixed-use office space, a 150-seat restaurant and 200-room hotel. Adjacent to the hotel will be a meeting center-how large or small depends on whether the county selects SRQ Innovation Green as the site of its official conference center. "We see ourselves as one of the excellent locations for that," says Smith. "We're right at the doorstep of the airport, there's already parking, and, without adding our own hotel, there are 600 to 800 hotel rooms within walking distance."

Regardless, Smith sees great promise in the location between Sarasota, Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch. With its proximity to New College of Florida and the University of South Florida, he says the complex will be "a vital part of the university/cultural district up there, because there isn't really a place right now where professors and students and people from the Asolo and the Ringling-the 'cultural creatives' of all ages-can meet, d eat and be entertained." The first phase will include a cyber café, and Smith is working with John Lambie of the Florida House to establish a learning center as well.

The Folsom Group is in the middle of a lengthy Development of Regional Impact approval process involving two counties, two regional planning councils, the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority and the City of Sarasota. If all goes well, construction could commence next fall on phase one.

"I've been interested in green architecture for 40 years, since I graduated from college," says Smith, who won three U..S. Housing and Urban Development awards in the 1970s for solar houses he designed in Albemarle, Va. "This is my passion. It's not a gimmick. Given a choice, would you rather have a highly toxic carpet in your home that makes you sick for the first few years of its existence, or a clean, healthy floor system?" In the short term, green architecture often costs a little more, he says, but in the long term, it "usually ends up costing less over a 10-20-year period." He says long-term leases will be "competitive with the marketplace."

Smith says that SRQ Innovation Green will have a contemporary design to complement the nearby airport. "It doesn't have to look a lot different. It's not how we want to set ourselves apart from the market. We would prefer everybody to use green thinking."

The Price of Air

You know Sarasota is growing up when developers start buying air rights.

It's unusual for a small marketplace to deal with air rights. You hear about it in Boston, Manhattan and Denver, of course. But in Sarasota?

Until recently, air rights were a non-topic here. Since developers in the area could always find available land and that all-important waterfront view, air rights-the right to purchase developable space above an existing building-have never been an issue.

But when markets get hot, new issues emerge, says John Harshman of Harshman & Company, Inc. And downtown-with more than 25 projects approved or on the burner-is hot. So how much does our air cost? "It depends on the air," says Joe Hembree of Hembree and Associates. "The air over Myakka is cheap. The air over Five Points is not." The air rights One Sarasota Tower sold to the builder of Marina Tower cost about $750,000, says commercial realtor Ian Black, who represented One Sarasota Tower in that 1990s' sale. Harshman says air can be as expensive as land, and when you remember that a square foot on Golden Gate Point is going for $400 to $500, then downtown air is truly rarified.

But sometimes even downtown air is free. Case in point: Several years ago the City of Sarasota gave the developers of The Renaissance, the condominium on U.S. 41 between Sixth and 10th streets, the view corridor to the bay as an incentive to build a high-rise of affordable apartments. That was before downtown took off and before Renaissance developers decided to build condos instead of apartments. In 2003, the giveaway become controversial when the Florida West Coast Symphony began to look for a new home and discovered they could not build a structure more than 45 feet high because it would block the view of Renaissance residents.

Currently, air rights are involved in at least three new projects in downtown Sarasota.

o The most talked-about space is above the Hyatt's parking lot in between the Hyatt and the Quay where developer Patrick Kelly and others originally wanted to build a 70-unit luxury condominium called Villa Sienna. The condominium would be built above the lot and would provide a view of the bay on the upper levels. The developers are rethinking their plans, but commercial realtors and other developers speculate that this "air"-purchased from the former owners of the Quay-probably cost about $150,000 per unit, or more than $10 million.

o Air rights are also a big part of the discussion along the 1600 block of Main Street, right across from the Bank of America. Currently, there are 12 one-story retail stores along that block. A developer is negotiating with the property owners, who would give their air rights to the developer; in return, the developer would tear down the existing buildings, build a mixed-use, multi-story building that would include new ground-floor quarters for the 12 businesses and a parking garage. The developer would also compensate the owners for the loss of revenue during construction.

oThe City of Sarasota gave Cityscape developer Mark Kauffman the air rights over a city alley so he could build a mixed-use high rise that will stretch from the corner of Main Street and U.S. 301 to Ringling Boulevard. Kauffman's building will be built over the alley, allowing for vehicle traffic underneath.

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