Kevin McQuaid/Sarasota Business Observer – Main Plaza has anchored one end of Sarasota’s downtown for the past three decades, always teeming with potential but often mired by a lack of cohesion and vision.
Mostly, in the two decades since Regal Cinemas debuted its Hollywood 20 cineplex at the 1991 Main St. site, Main Plaza has largely languished.
Case in point: Though two of the three partners comprising new owner BBC Main Street have lived in Sarasota for more than a decade, their exposure to Main Plaza was almost nil.
BBC Main Street acquired Main Plaza earlier this month for $18.1 million.
Jesse Biter, an automotive software entrepreneur, moved to Sarasota 15 years ago. Prior to buying Main Plaza, he’d been in its office and retail space only once.
Eric Baird has a similar story. A Sarasota resident for two decades, he’d never been inside Main Plaza’s cavernous offices until he was approached about buying the complex over a month ago.
“We want to get this right,” Biter says. “Right now, there are a lot of options.”
“The office space needs work, but it’s not that bad,” Baird says. “I’m ready to move in next month.”
The third partner, David Chessler, is the founder of Sarasota-based GPS Industries, a firm that specializes in outfitting golf carts with GPS software. He is also chief investment officer for the Great White Share Opportunity Fund, a $75 million fund seeded by professional golfer Greg Norman.
All three BBC Main partners are contemplating moving at least one of the companies they control to Main Plaza’s empty offices.
Still, along with the former site of the Sarasota Quay in downtown Sarasota, the Channelside District in Tampa and the University Mall in that same city, Main Plaza is among the most valuable redevelopment tracts in all of Southwest Florida.
With a new owner, Main Plaza/Hollywood 20 might get a revitalization that is long overdue.
“It’s a great location, a large block of land that is unusual in urban settings in Florida,” says Patrick Berman, a senior director and retail specialist with commercial brokerage firm Cushman & Wakefield, in Tampa, who sold Main Plaza to a Sarasota investment group. “It’s too good a property not to be redeveloped.”
But how that redevelopment occurs, and to what extent, remains in question.
Several developers have floated plans in recent years that would involve demolishing at least part of Main Plaza, and repositioning a five-deck parking garage that sits in the middle of the property.
Steve Horn, an agent with Ian Black Real Estate, the Sarasota brokerage firm that represented BBC Main in the transaction, says Main Plaza has the potential to become a “true mixed-use development.”
“It could be all encompassing, with a fitness component, retail, office space, a hotel and apartments,” he says. “There are developments like that in the Northeast, but not really here. It could almost be a city unto itself. There’s nothing constraining the site but the 10-story height limit there.”
Jeff Green, a Phoenix-based retail consultant who has done extensive work in Southwest Florida, agrees BBC Main should consider either non-traditional retail or alternative uses for Main Plaza.
He contends the property would be an ideal site for multifamily residential development.
“I would go multifamily, with only a little bit of retail going forward, unless it’s service retail,” Green says. “Downtown Sarasota has enough retail as it is. They were able to buy it for an amazing price, but the highest and best use going forward is going to require some capital to make it work.”
Berman, too, maintains residential development could be lucrative.
“There are very impressive site lines there from the third floor up,” he says. “And from downtown Tampa to Sarasota, there are not that many eight-acre sites. So there’s a combination of limited supply and zoning at Main Plaza that allows an owner to do so much.”
And while BBC Main’s plans for the site have yet to gel, Main Plaza’s significance to the larger urban framework is undisputed.
“It’s long been recognized that Main Plaza is critically important to the entire downtown,” says Ian Black, president of Ian Black Real Estate.
“It’s universally held that that block is vital to the future of that whole side of town.”
Currently, the 254,000-square-foot complex, on 8.6 acres, is anchored by Regal’s theater, a YMCA branch, Ker’s Wing House and government offices.
Regal’s future there, however, is in doubt. Its lease expires in early 2017, and company officials have hinted that the exhibitor wants to considerably shrink its footprint there to compete with other theaters and home movie viewing.
Also undisputed is BBC Main’s determination to make the project a success for residents and visitors alike.
“They honestly do care about what happens there,” Horn says of BBC Main’s partners.