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Business Observer Wednesday, Jun. 15, 2022 5 months ago

Sarasota building inspector calls for immediate safety measures at Mira Mar

The property inspection found an "overall decline," and a local expert says the city is liable if the building collapses.
by: Louis Llovio Commercial Real Estate Editor

The city of Sarasota’s building inspector is asking that shoring be immediately placed in the Mira Mar building after looking it over and reading initial reports from engineers hired by the property’s current owner.

In an afternoon email Tuesday, June 14 to Karins Engineering, Lawrence Murphy, a building official with the city, writes that the South Palm property be “shored without delay and a shoring plan developed with your current findings with an importance placed on the second level connecting bridge.”

Shoring, according to engineering blog The Structural World, is used to support a building to prevent collapse.

Murphy’s email was written in follow up to a limited walk of the building and to his receiving Karins’ report and photos “showing the overall decline of its structural systems to include the lack of plywood to meet any wind loading, termite damage, wood rot and undersized foundations to carry the vertical dead and imposed live loads.”

The Mira Mar has been the focus of much attention this week as a developer, in the process of buying the building, saw a request to demolish it to make way for 70 condominiums was unanimously rejected by the city’s Historic Preservation Board.

Murphy’s email was sent about two hours before the vote. He inspected the property the previous day, Monday, June 13. The city’s inspection is not tied to the demolition request.

At issue, accord to Seaward Development and Mark Kauffman, the property’s current owner, is the state of the building which they say is rapidly deteriorating and very likely to pose a serious safety issue.

Karins, in a letter to Kauffman, is recommending safety inspections on the north side of the building every three days. But the problems, according to Murphy’s email, are likely affecting the south portion of the building as well.

The Mira Mar building is actually two buildings connected by a bridge. Seaward’s application for demolition covers the entire property.

“I know that the intent is to prepare a detailed report for the entire building as most of the investigation to date has been focused on the north side,” Murphy wrote. “You had stated and I would concur that the south building will most likely uncover the same conditions as it relates to undersized foundations, termite damage, wood rot and lack of plywood to account for wind loading.”

One well-respected Sarasota-based building expert who has reviewed the photos and videos from the engineer’s testing says this is “some of the worst wood rot I have ever seen. This building should be condemned.”

Patricia Staebler, a reserve specialist working on structural issues with condominium associations, says the Historic Preservation Board failed to do the right thing because the building is unsafe.

“Starting yesterday,” she says, “the city will be liable for any injuries/deaths which would result from a structural failure. If one of these support beams caves, and the second floor comes down, it will have severe consequences.

“Just because this is not a high-rise does not mean there would not be severe injuries/deaths. The historic preservation board exposes the city to extreme liability. This is not protecting the public.”

As for Seaward, which has been a tenant in Mira Mar for five years, the company says in a statement that “we are anxiously awaiting the 72 hour update from Karins Engineering that should come in today and then again on Saturday to see if it’s safe to continue being a tenant.”

Seaward plans to build a two-story retail component and 10-story residential component that would be true to the original design.

“Our offer stands to be part of (the) solution here and work with the historical community to continue to maintain the charm and character of the building and build a truer historical example of the original building in the 1920s,” Matthew Leake, Seaward’s president, says in a statement.

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