Burns Court Revival

By Hannah Wallace July 31, 2004

That much-touted Money Magazine article from 2000-the one that named Sarasota the nation's best small city-listed Burns Court as Sarasota's "top neighborhood" (along with Lakewood Ranch). That might be an iffy honor for the less than block-long enclave of a few tiny stucco houses, but the quaint 1920s neighborhood, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, really has become one of Sarasota's hippest-and hottest-commercial districts.

In the strictest sense, Burns Court is the 12 Mediterranean-style homes that sit directly on Burns Court, the short street running parallel to Pineapple Avenue, roughly between Selby Lane and Ringling Boulevard. It's part of a larger retail district between Pineapple and Orange, referred to as Burns Square, a charming few blocks of one- and two-story buildings-including the lovely Herald Square with its antique and second-hand stores-that ends with a tiny park and fountain.

Most of Burns Court's two-bedroom, one-bathroom homes, ranging in size from 800 to 1,200 square feet, have been converted into commercial space. Together, they form an eclectic mix of upscale shops, galleries and three restaurants. The little street is punctuated on both ends by landmarks: the two-story U.S. Garage, built in 1924 and remodeled by Frank Folsom Smith in 1982, leases to a collection of nonprofits and businesses (including Gulfshore Media, Inc.); and, on the other end, the avant-garde Burns Court Cinema, which draws cinema fans from nearby counties.

Originally built to house snowbirds, Burns Court's tiny homes were decaying and neglected in the 1980s, when some sold for as little as $20,000. But as downtown has again become fashionable, some now fetch a half million or more. And that's for a fixer-upper. Just ask Sharon Katzman, owner of Ioptics, a high-end eyewear shop at 446 Burns Court, a 2/1 she renovated and converted to retail space. She bought it for $410,000 the day it went on the market in 2002, and says she's seen significant appreciation since then. "We felt it was now or never," says Katzman. "People are renovating, putting a lot of money into these homes."

Close to the bayfront and within walking distance of downtown's neighborhoods, Burns Court epitomizes the New Urbanism ideal of a busy, pedestrian-friendly downtown neighborhood, with its small shops and cafes, the cinema, and now the Saturday farmer's market as well. Developers have noticed all the action, with two new projects now taking shape.

Orange Dolphin Galleria is a parcel of high-end retail shops located at the corner of Pineapple and Dolphin Lane, the site of the former Serbin Printing building, which sold for $1.7 million last December. Developed by Gary Pike, owner of Point West Designs and Antiques, and designed by Thorning Little, the Mediterranean-style structure holds 12 retail units, five still available at press time. Signed tenants included Point West Designs, an Italian jeweler and an Italian pastry and coffee shop. Barbara Baseman, a realtor with Michael Saunders Commercial and the representative for the Orange Dolphin, says the developers hope to have "quite an impact on Burns Square." The 775-square-foot units at Orange Dolphin Galleria lease for $30 per square foot.

The second project, Burns Court Villas, is at the intersection of Burns Lane and Selby Lane and should be finished in September 2005. The 23-unit development is comprised of two- and three-story townhouses ranging in price from $780,000 to $927,000. Developers Gilbert Alvarez and Mark Miller have kept the scale intimate to match the surroundings, and they say, to keep Burns Court one of Sarasota's "top neighborhoods."

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