Luxury Real Estate

By Carol Tisch Photography by Matt McCourtney January 1, 2011

The Sky’s the Limit

Nat King Cole, Marianne Faithful and Tony Bennett each sang the praises of rooftop living in bluesy renditions of the 1930s rhapsody, Penthouse Serenade. The Jeffersons’ TV theme song celebrated movin’ on up to a deluxe apartment in the sky. And Green Acres star Eva Gabor opened every episode intoning, “I just adore a penthouse view!” 

Romanticized in lyrics and lore, the glamorous penthouses of corporate moguls and movie stars are the stuff dreams are made of. Yet the dream of penthouse ownership is a new reality in Sarasota— especially for those with the wherewithal to snap up steep discounts resulting from the economic downturn.

Top guns at every budget level are finding exceptional values and myriad options in design, from Mediterranean to Art Deco to ultra-contemporary. But as every aficionado of Sarasota real estate knows, there are penthouses and then there are penthouses. “A true penthouse is on the top floor of a building and uniquely different from units on lower floors—larger, with more interesting architecture, higher ceilings, custom finishes, impressive views and outdoor spaces,” explains Maureen Horn, agent with Michael Saunders & Company

Realtors seem evenly split on whether the view or the size of a penthouse is more important to clients. Interestingly, only top-floor penthouses can be vented for gas cooking, fireplaces and outdoor spas in Sarasota high-rises—a major selling point. And buyers in this category often want pet-friendly buildings—preferably those that allow two (and if they’re dogs, big ones). 

At press time we found 40 active penthouse listings in Sarasota County, with true penthouses ranging from a pied-à-terre two-story loft at Cityscape at Courthouse Centre ($350,000), to a world-class haven of luxury perched atop Beau Ciel ($7.7 million). Though multiple listing searches uncovered a surprising number of lovely penthouses priced under $1 million, the bulk of listings with the requisite bells and whistles are priced from $1 million to the low $2 millions. Shattering any notion of a glass ceiling on luxury is a handful of rooftop mansions (starting at $2.5 million).

In Sarasota, you can match penthouse views to your lifestyle. Whether you prefer overlooking the geometry of city streets, beachfront solitude, big bay views, your own private boat dock or the expansive green of a golf community, Sarasota has penthouses worthy of Fred and Ginger—many substantially reduced. For example, Michael Saunders & Company’s listing for a 3,199-square-foot, three-bedroom, three-bath penthouse with views of the first and ninth holes of Prestancia’s tournament-quality golf course is a steal at $325,000.

Equally impressive is the deal on Signature Sotheby’s International Realty’s 2,225-square-foot penthouse suite in Bellagio Harbor Village, a five-year-old, 53-unit gated waterfront community in Osprey. Reduced from $1.3 million to $799,900, the three-bedroom, three-bath home overlooks Blackburn Bay and boasts private elevator entry, granite countertops, Viking appliances and travertine marble flooring. Designed for boaters with dockage available for rent or for sale, the community offers amenities from fitness center to spa and sauna.

If you’re willing to consider an older building or low-rise, you can buy into the dream for about $450,000 to $500,000 on Siesta and Longboat Keys; $215,000 gets you a penthouse at the low-slung River Yacht and Racquet Club in Bradenton. Keep in mind that these prices often reflect yesterday’s notions of luxury. Most have lower ceilings than those now fashionable, and circa 1970s and ’80s penthouses may be in serious need of remodeling. Still, you have bragging rights to glorious views, and nary a noisy neighbor overhead.

Traditionalists for whom “penthouse” means nothing less than a high-rise can now snare a beachfront unit in the $1 million to $2 million range in some of the older buildings on Lido and Longboat Keys. Sylvia Zimmerman of Prudential Palms Realty is currently listing a direct Gulf-front three-bedroom, three-bath penthouse in Longboat Key Towers, reduced from $2,495,000 to $1,995,000. “It has amazing front-to-back views, with a balcony that runs the whole length of the building,” she says. “Views are what people want, and this has sunsets on the beach and city lights across the bay at night.”

Dowagers like Longboat Key Towers are hiding their age with masterful facelifts that dramatically increase competitiveness with the slew of new condos that sprang up during Sarasota’s building boom from 2003 to 2006. The owners of Zimmerman’s listing modernized their entire unit. What’s more, the condo board recently supervised the entire property’s upgrade with new windows, roof, and an impressive rock feature at the entrance.

With less prime beach property available, buildings with priceless views are well worth preserving. But those who want state-of-the-art architectural features will be blown away by two stunning but dramatically different penthouse homes on Siesta Key beaches. At a Michael Saunders listing, low-slung is synonymous with spectacular: a two-bedroom, two-bath penthouse in a three-unit building directly on Siesta Key beach. Sunset views here will set you back $3.2 million, but they don’t get any better than those from the home’s 1,700-square-foot rooftop deck.

Unique to the area is the 26-unit Crescent-Siesta Key, built in 2006 with clean contemporary Scandinavian design influenced by the Swedish corporate roots of general contractor Skanska USA. The mid-rise condo offers Gulf-front pool, second private pool, fitness room and more. Listed by Joel Schemmel of Signature Sotheby’s at $1,999,000 (recently reduced from $2,399,999), the three-bedroom, three-bath penthouse boasts incredible views of the Gulf of Mexico and white sands of Crescent Beach.

For buyers seeking urban sophistication, downtown Sarasota’s tiny slice of Manhattan-style penthouse living is irresistible. New buildings have lured local residents as well as snowbirds from Canada and abroad with uninterrupted expanses of glass, penthouses that live like single-family homes and staffs that handle the hassles of home maintenance and repairs. At the yacht-inspired Rivo at Ringling (where iconic oval windows conjure images of oversized portholes), two of the six top-floor penthouses are available though Prudential Palms Realty for $899,000 and $1,020,000. Price differences are based on views. 

On a dollar-per-square-foot basis, Rivo’s are among the best new penthouse bargains in town, primarily because the building sits a tad outside the strict boundary of downtown’s core. That’s also true for the Alinari, a three-year-old building directly across Tamiami Trail from the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. Here an elegant 18th-floor penthouse, sharply priced at $1,225,000, recalls the 1920s definition of the word: a house set on a rooftop terrace with uncommonly breathtaking views (here it’s Sarasota Bay as far as the eye can see).

The lavish penthouses of the Roaring ’20s could not have been fathomed before the invention of the elevator. And Maureen Horn, the Michael Saunders listing agent for the 3,219-square-foot Alinari unit, says private elevator entry is still among the most coveted penthouse attributes. Horn’s penthouse has one, as well as a 1,800 feet of outdoor living space that can be equipped with a Jacuzzi, and a deeded pool cabana (worth an additional $60,000), making it one of the best penthouse values in the city.

In Sarasota’s penthouse hierarchy, prestigious new high-rises in the heart of downtown continue to command premium, albeit reduced prices. Prudential Palms’ swoon-worthy listing in Plaza at Five Points features nearly 4,200 square feet of interior space and another 1,200 square feet of private terraces with a spa and gas grill. Originally priced at $3,995,000, the home is now offered at $2.75 million, replete with grand foyer entry, chef’s kitchen, living, family and game rooms, three bedrooms, floor-to-ceiling walls of glass and spectacular views.

If money is no object (and that still seems to be the case for some international buyers), the $7.7 million grand penthouse at Beau Ciel is not to be missed. “It’s the ultimate home in the sky,” says Judy Kepecz-Hays of Coldwell Banker. The 8,100-square foot residence has four bedrooms, 5.5 baths and 360-degree views from four wraparound terraces, with 2,100 feet of outdoor living that includes a rooftop spa.

Who buys these dollar-feathered eagles’ nests? “I have clients who have Sarasota as their second, third or fourth home,” Kepecz-Hays explains. “They travel the world and ask for the grandeur of a private residence, without the maintenance that accompanies a single-family home.” With full concierge services from the Hyatt Regency next door, Beau Ciel offers every amenity of a five-star hotel.

The sky’s also the limit at La Bellasara, where Peg Davant of Signature Sotheby’s offers another palatial penthouse, this one priced at $6,850,000 for 6,066 square feet with 1,804 feet of terraces. “The owner brought in artisans—not workers,” Davant says. “The quality of the finishes, the attention to detail and the views are so spectacular it takes clients several minutes to process the visual and emotional aspects of living at the top. They’re spellbound.”

What Your Money Can Buy

$6,685,000: Golden Gate Elegance

This mansion in the sky has artisan-quality finishes throughout its 6,066-square-foot interiors, including a 3,000-square-foot master suite, three grand salons, home theater, game lounge and oversized gourmet kitchen. Peg Davant of Sotheby’s Signature International Realty says 1,800 feet of terraces frame breathtaking views atop the luxurious La Bellasara on Golden Gate Point. Contact: (941) 364-4000

$2,750,000: Downtown Crystal Palace

A one-of-a-kind penthouse at Plaza at Five Points lives like a house, with nearly 4,200 square feet of interior space and floor-to-ceiling walls of glass framing spectacular bay and city views. Listed by Linda A. Page of Prudential Palms Realty; the private terraces add 1,200 square feet of outdoor living with spa and gas grill. Contact: (941) 926-7000

$799,900: Boating Resort Lifestyle

Sarasota’s water world is right outside your doorstep at Bellagio Harbor Village, a gated waterfront marina community overlooking Blackburn Bay. Reduced from $1.3 million to $799,900, this three-bedroom, three-bath penthouse listed by Stephen Lingley of Signature Sotheby’s International Realty has private elevator entry, water views and amenities including an onsite restaurant, fitness center, pool and spa. Contact: (941) 809-7580

Filed under
Show Comments