A Landmark Center

By Hannah Wallace March 31, 2007

Doctor-turned-developer Mark Kauffman sees his LandMark Center project as a first step in resuscitating U.S. 301 in downtown Sarasota. "It's a sleeper," Kauffman says of the thoroughfare, also called South Washington Boulevard. "A lot of old buildings need to be rebuilt. It'll come alive the next four years."

Kauffman's project is situated on the west side of 301 between Oak and Laurel streets. He bought and then razed a fitness center and the long-existing Dairy Queen at 500 S. Washington Blvd. to make way for LandMark Center, a four-story building next to LandMark Bank.

The $4 million building will mostly house the expanding offices of LandMark Bank. Kauffman bought the land for about $1.2 million two years ago. "LandMark Bank is spread out between three buildings now," Kauffman says. The new building will enable them to consolidate their administrative offices.

Kauffman hopes to "punch a hole" in LandMark Bank's existing building at 544 S. Washington and connect it with a walkway to his new building, but is still negotiating with the other building's owner on details.

The bank will occupy three floors and part of the lobby, leaving about 3,000 square feet available for other commercial tenants. Kauffman says the space is ideal for law or other offices because of its proximity to the county judicial center.

Architect Dick Allen designed the modernistic LandMark Center, and Tom Jackson and Associates is the builder. Completion is scheduled by year's end.

Near Kauffman's property are a number of single-story businesses, including an Oriental market, a custom framing shop and a Mexican restaurant.

Eventually, Kauffman-who'd like to acquire more parcels in the area-thinks the single-story businesses will be replaced with multi-level buildings like the one he has planned, spurring more commercial development in the Laurel Park commercial area.

Kauffman had planned a 10-story tower two blocks north of LandMark Center that he believes would have transformed the area. Towles Court called for 69 condos and 20,000 square feet of commercial space. But when the residential real estate market started to soften, he-like several other developers of mixed-use projects-put those plans on hold. Bellagio Restaurant, Porter Paints and a few art-related businesses inhabit the building now, and Kauffman is satisfied to wait and see what the market will do.

"We have good tenants who have spruced up the property," says Kauffman, who has lived in Sarasota for 30 years.

The demise of the condo project doesn't mean Kauffman has a lack of other ventures. He's got a handful of other commercial projects in the works, including Bayou Commercial Center, a 10,000-square-foot commercial building on Osprey Avenue across the street from the sleek modern redo of a former auto dealership that now houses Metro Coffee & Wine and Kauffman's offices.

Bayou will have six loft-style office condos with high ceilings, ranging from 1,200 to 1,800 feet. They've been selling for about $350 a square foot and only one unit remains, Kauffman says. A steak restaurant, a decorator and medical offices will occupy the new building. Construction hasn't started yet but he expects the project to take about 14 months.

Kauffman is also finishing up the Bank of Commerce building on Ringling Boulevard, and collaborating with Benderson Development Company on a 12-story Sarasota Memorial Hospital medical tower on Arlington Street. "It will have condos for people who work at the hospital with retail and medical offices," says Kauffman. Plans call for a two-story building on Hillview Street with a coffeehouse and eyeglass store.

Kauffman is also working with Benderson and Burton-Katzman Development on a proposal for city-owned land on Palm Avenue behind Sarasota News and Books that would bring downtown its first senior-living condos, along with a hotel and a mix of businesses.

"We don't look for projects, they find us," Kauffman says. 

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