Public Works

By Hannah Wallace January 31, 2004

A new office complex and high-end storage facility are in the works for the historic Sarasota waterworks building.

The late 19th-century revival-style brick building, hidden behind a screen of thick foliage at the northwest corner of Orange Avenue and Tenth Street, will begin redevelopment this spring as the centerpiece of an office/showroom complex and high-end climate-controlled storage facility. The city operated it as a waterworks from 1926 to 1982.

Frank Howell, of the Howell Construction Group, Inc., purchased the property from the City of Sarasota last year for $279,000. He will restore the 3,600-square-foot historic structure and construct behind it a 7,000-square-foot office building that will incorporate many of its architectural features. Dan Ionescu is the architect.

Just to the west of the office complex, Howell is partnering on the 65,000-square-foot storage facility with Mark Rasmus and Brit Svoboda of R & S Development, who have already built two similar facilities in Naples. A timely idea precipitated by the upsurge in luxury downtown condominiums, Howell says, the storage facility will offer such upscale amenities as wine cellars and spaces to store automobiles, antiques, fine art and other possessions these new downtown residents will need to find space for as they downsize from their former homes. The storage facility will have a handsome lobby entrance.

Because the waterworks building is on the National Register of Historic Places, Howell must restore it to the Secretary of the Interior's historical restoration standards. The interior and exterior are red brick, with a mansard tile roof. It has terracotta floors, antique lamps and exposed steel trusses. One part of the building is two-story, with living quarters for the on-site engineer. The rest of the building is a one-story open mezzanine that houses huge water pumping pipes. Most of that equipment will come out, but Howell plans to keep a few original pieces on display to remind people of the building's original function.

"Everything has to be done with sensitivity to the original materials, and everything has to be documented," he says. The payoff for all that painstaking effort is that "it gives you that unique building that you can't duplicate anymore," says the developer, who is no stranger to historical restoration; he recently completed the 11-month, $2.2 million restoration of the Venice rail depot for Sarasota County.

Howell laughs at the notion that he's a hero to historic preservationists. "A glutton for punishment is more like it," says the 1974 graduate of Sarasota High, who started Howell Construction in 1981. "It will be a challenge to renovate it; it needs a lot of work. It would be cheaper to build a replica from scratch."

The complex was yet to be named at press time, but it will incorporate the name Waterworks in some way, Howell says; construction is expected to take 10 to 12 months.

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