Mr. Chatterbox

By staff July 1, 2005

Guess what! I've discovered the hot new neighborhood! Yes, the place where property values will skyrocket and we'll all get rich if we buy now. That as-yet undiscovered "bit" of Sarasota which, if a little rough around the edges, will soon become sophisticated and charming. I like it so much I've even moved here, staking my future in the land and feeling just like Bertha Palmer.

The new hot area is so hot it doesn't even have a name. Those of us who live here usually say "near Ed Smith Stadium" when asked where we call home. Close your eyes and picture the boundaries: on the south, Fruitville Road; on the north, 17th Street; on the west, Lime Avenue; and on the east, Beneva Road. It is big, chaotic in layout, with lots of segmented streets and railroad tracks and small industrial buildings. Much of it is a "service area" for the rest of town; things like the Humane Society and the Little League field are here, along with the Coca-Cola plant and carpet and tile stores. The eastern edge has some pretty residential areas but not many. There are no notable restaurants or shopping. So what does it have? The old real estate "pot of gold:" location.

It's in the middle of everything. Downtown is an easy 10 minutes or less, straight down 12th Street. You can zip out Beneva to the mall; the interstate is a mere five minutes east on Fruitville-even Bradenton is convenient. Just follow Lockwood Ridge north. And after living downtown for many years, let me tell you it's a pleasure not to deal with all those red lights. Downtown, you drive a block, then stop for a red light. You drive another block, then stop for a red light. And those lights are long. At Orange and Mound you often hear an entire song, start to finish, on the radio. I've even seen people get out of their cars and dance.

Well, I don't have to worry about that any more. In Mr. Chatterbox's new neighborhood the traffic flows freely. True, it's often being chased by cop cars, but so what? It's great to be in a "live-and-let-live" atmosphere where people are not judged by the size of their mega-mansion or the contents of their stock portfolio. People around here are the salt of the earth. I guess what I'm trying to say is that my tires were slashed the other night.

Things are changing, though. What started the turnaround was the construction of the Villa D'Este condos on Tuttle near 12th. Originally rental units, they are noticeably more upscale than anything in the "'hood" and look like they would be more at home in Palmer Ranch. True, I would have preferred a few more trees in the landscaping, but that didn't seem to bother people when the place went condo a year or so ago. The units were snapped up; in fact, I nearly bought one-and wish I had, as they have appreciated enormously.

Villa D'Este made the stadium area respectable, and since then there have been several other conversions, most notably The Palms, which so many of us remember as the old Club Mar. Oh, the times I've had there. Back in the old days everybody knew somebody who lived at Club Mar. It was full of people who were young and new in town-waiters and secretaries and impoverished arts administrators. It was the kind of place where you had roommates and spent the weekend down by the pool and went to impromptu spaghetti parties to dance the night away. Now it's all gussied up with granite counter tops (optional), but if you listen carefully and you've had enough Corona Lite you can still hear Wham! and Paula Abdul echoing through the corridors.

As far as single-family homes go, the stadium area is one of the last bastions of affordable housing. We're talking Sarasota affordable housing, though, which means if you find anything under $200,000 either snap it up yourself or call me immediately. I would guess the average house goes for between $200,000 and $300,000. For this you get an uninspiring ranch on a block with pickup trucks parked on the lawns. Perhaps it will be on one of the "fish streets"-Pompano, Tarpon or Mackerel. I don't care. Buy it. The place will only improve. Much of the land is underused-parking lots, etc.-and the small industrial buildings would make great housing for artists. The possibilities are endless.

I only wish my new neighborhood had a little more charm. True, there is an area around Jefferson and Aspinwall that is shady and pleasant. And two small subdivisions to the east are worth investigating. Lake Ridge Estates actually faces a lake and has some nice early '60s ranches. And Carolina Estates, the one with that wild lime green New Orleans-style entrance gate that you've driven past a million times, is full of great little houses. Here the streets all have something to do with music-there's Melody Street, there's Crosby Street and Beethoven Street. But on a recent drive through both of them I saw exactly one house for sale.

A step down the neighborhood ladder is that amorphous area across Fruitville from Robarts Arena. What on earth is back there? you've probably wondered. If you investigate you find blocks and blocks of small houses, some of them neat, some of them shabby, but all of them affordable, fixer-uppable and in an incredible location. Because that's the thing about my new neighborhood-it may not be so great in itself, but great stuff is all around its edges.

I was right about Laurel Park. I was right about Southside Village. I was right about Southgate. And I'm right about this place, whatever it's called. If you want to learn more about the fabulous opportunities in real estate that await you in the stadium area, plan on attending my valuable wealth-building seminar to be held Saturday, Aug. 1, at the Stardust Event Center on 12th Street (a venue that's already drawing business away from the Ritz-Carlton Ballroom, or so I'm told). In the morning I will deliver a fascinating block-by-block analysis of the entire area; the afternoon will be devoted to break-out sessions on a variety of topics: "How to Evict the Poor," "Queer Eye for the Shabby Neighborhood: Housing Grants for Gay Couples," and "Blackmail is Such an Ugly Word, or How to Use the City Commissioners' Personal Weaknesses for Your Own Self- Empowerment." The whole-day session starts from the low $500s. Call me here at the magazine to reserve your place.

Act now before the bubble bursts!

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