Updated Nov. 20, 2020
If the middle of the action is where you want to be—theaters, restaurants, coffee shops, lovely Bayfront Park—take a look at the many downtown condominium options. Downtowners love walking to the lively Saturday morning farmer’s market and the numerous art festivals and street parties. (The farmer's market has resumed with social distancing rules in place; those fun street parties are temporarily on hold.)
Choices range from small two-bedroom condos built in the 1970s to large ultra-luxury apartments in the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota. A renaissance in new-condo construction—the brand-new BLVD Sarasota, the Ritz-Carlton Residences and Bayso in the redeveloping Quay Sarasota district, Auteur on Boulevard of the Arts, the DeMarcay on South Palm Avenue and Epoch on Gulfstream Avenue, for example—is changing the city skyline forever.
Downtown Sarasota has a very walkable core, with elegant and expensive high-rise apartments. Your neighbors will be a sophisticated and worldly lot, with plenty of disposable income. There are all kinds of housing downtown, but the classic setup is a high-floor apartment with a spectacular view. These showplaces start around $1.5 million and can quickly go up to five or more. In the older buildings you can get a nice smaller unit in need of updating for $500,000 or less. All those new buildings you see going up are on the ultra-expensive side. And the brand-new Mark Sarasota, the big, bright white 157-unit tower that stretches for most of South Pineapple Avenue between Main Street and Lemon (by the same developer as the Vue that fills the corner of U.S. 41 and Gulfstream, with an 18-story Westin hotel attached), is the elephant in the room. How is having that enormous building in the middle of everything going to change downtown? Let’s just hope that it doesn’t get too urban.
The quintessential Sarasota neighborhood? Without a doubt, that would be Laurel Park, between South Orange and Osprey avenues. Over the years, it's changed from a rundown and slightly raffish area of rednecks and elderly eccentrics into the enclave it always had the potential to be—a miniature version of Key West, with its funky architecture and tropical alleyways. The new houses are gorgeous and very expensive (anywhere from $600,000 to $2 million), but the best part is the way they blend in with the old structures. A National Historic District, Laurel Park is dotted with houses from the ’20s, but it also has several 1970s apartment buildings—in their defense, they are now starting to look quaint—and some Cracker houses that have yet to see the remodeler’s tool. But these elements only add to the bohemian charm. Adding to the appeal is nearby Towles Court, an artists’ colony with brightly painted, Florida Cracker-style cottages housing galleries and coffeehouses. A monthly gallery walk attracts art-loving browsers. If you like Greenwich Village, then you’ll like Laurel Park.
The Rosemary District
With Central Avenue as its spine, Rosemary District is bounded by Fruitville Road and 10th Street to the north and south and by Orange Avenue and Route 41 to the east and west. Spurts of redevelopment that began in the 1990s have turned into a steady flow, as demand for walk-to downtown property rises. Originally an African-American neighborhood, it’s now attracting start-ups, architects, a few high-end retailers and creative young people. And a recent building boom has added hundreds of condos and apartments, many very nice indeed. True, the Salvation Army is right down the block, along with its homeless clients. The neighborhood may be a little gritty around the edges, but it’s well on its way to a promising future.
Golden Gate Point
Thirty years ago, Golden Gate Point looked like a cut-rate Old Florida vacation spot, with two-story motel-style apartment buildings and a transient air. The largest structure was a retirement home for priests. Today, with the priests sent off to retire elsewhere and the kitschy old buildings all but gone, there’s a wave of new construction, and a new generation of luxury buildings is going up. The first generation—Bellasara, Grande Riviera—came during the boom, but the new ones are smaller in scale. They’re “boutique” buildings, and though the buildings themselves may be small, the apartments are large; some occupy an entire floor. A crisp, modern look is the style—a la Guy Peterson's Aqua, One888 and The Pearl—with high-quality modern architecture.
The bargains in Golden Gate (if you can still find any) are the older buildings. Pier 550, which has been around since the 1940s, is the most desirable. It’s picturesque, low and yellow, with green lawns facing a spectacular view of the marina and downtown. The problem: Units rarely come on the market. And you can almost feel the real estate sharks swimming around this prime piece of downtown property. It’s two-thirds of an acre and insiders say it could go for as much as $50 million.
Poets have to retire, too, and Gillespie Park is the perfect place. It’s adjacent to downtown but a world apart. Funky old cottages are the drawing card here, although more and more infill homes are being built. Gillespie Park is about one-half gentrified, and if diversity is important to your lifestyle this could well be the place for you. There is still a lot of shabby rental property, and many residents are working-class. But enough college professors, ceramicists, yoga instructors and playwrights have moved in to give the place a definite artistic edge. An old cottage, if you can find one, will start around $300,000. A new home, often modern in style and built on a smallish lot, can go for $750,000 and more. Or buy a nondescript piece of rental property (starting around $150,000) and turn it into something special. After all, you’re the creative one.