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Coffee Talk (Sara/Mana edition)

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  • | 6:00 p.m. February 18, 2005
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Coffee Talk (Sara/Mana edition)

Pricey proposition

The $40 million question hanging over downtown Sarasota: "Will Toronto-based Kolter Property Co. buy Richard Zipes' Metropolitan property at U.S. 41 and Gulf Stream Avenue for that price or not?"

Most outside observers have talked down the odds of the deal coming to pass because of the $25 million premium the new company would spend on the property. Zipes' Metropolitan Sarasota Ltd. purchased about 3 acres for $15 million in July of 2003.

Under the property's current zoning, which allows no more than 144 units on the site, Kolter Property would have to charge $277,778 per unit to cover the purchase price. Real estate experts argued that Zipes' projected pricing for the units of $1.5 million to $5 million per unit was already too expensive for the market.

However, Kolter Property officials say the deal will happen. Mary Kay Willson, a Kolter Property vice president, says: "We are looking to close in the first quarter - at the latest in March."

Willson says Kolter Property recently sold properties in Canada to focus on development deals in Florida. Kolter Property was the residential developer of the Water Club on Longboat Key.

As for the price, Willson says Zipes' company improved the property's zoning and the increase was not a flat increase in land prices.

So far, Kolter Property officials are different from the current owner in at least one respect, they have already approached local Realtors about selling the units - something Zipes' team was criticized for not doing.

Poster child

One Hundred Central and Whole Foods Market was recognized by the International Council of Shopping Centers as a panel case study at the recent conference on Open-Air Centers in Phoenix.

Brett Hutchens, president and CEO of Casto Lifestyle Properties, one half of the partnership developing the project, and Michael McNees, Sarasota city manager, spoke at the conference on public private partnership.

McNees emphasized key elements of the Whole Foods deal: Extensive up front review of the developers' plans; monitoring and facilitation of the permitting process; the appointment of a project manager from the planning department to help the developer with other city departments; and weekly construction meetings with the city, developer and contractor.

"Although our plan and the CRA process are working, there remain those who will criticize the city's efforts," McNees said. "Inevitably, we hear that CRA investment is really corporate welfare. But generally the public is pleased and we at the city are extremely pleased to have Whole Foods in our downtown."

Casto-Zenith LLC almost didn't do the project. Initial reaction was negative, citing lack of visibility, restricted access and not enough density in the immediate area.

"But as we went through the city's master plan with Whole Foods they began to feel more comfortable," McNees said. "Then when they were convinced the city was committed to the plan and would stand behind it, this gave Whole Foods the predictability it needed to approve the location and move forward."

Former Munroe's site to become DJ's

Since Rick and Suzanne Munroe sold the Munroe's downtown restaurant building last year, some Sarasotans have wondered when the next restaurant would appear at the high-profile location. Well, you only have two more months to go.

Donato Sassano and Donna and Randy Friend have leased about 3,700 square feet of restaurant space at 1296 First St., Sarasota, from Stanford, Conn.-based SCG Capitol. The new restaurant, DJ's, will have an eclectic menu mixing French, Italian, American and other cooking styles. The restaurant will also feature a jazz and blues club on the upper level with outdoor dining.

The main drive behind the new restaurant is Sassano, who worked with about a dozen country clubs through Club Corp. of America. His main country club restaurant was in Pinehurst, N.C. Sassano was brought to the area by Donna Friend.

"We are redoing the entire historic building," Sassano says. "We are planning to open the first or second week of April ... It has been our lifetime dream to have our own high-end restaurant. This is very close to our heart."

Jag Grewal and Michele Fuller, of Coldwell Banker, represented the landlord, and Dan Walker, of Michael Saunders & Co., represented the tenant.

Connecting the dots

AirTran Airways, a low-fare carrier that recently began service to Sarasota, plans 25% of its growth this year on cross-country routes as it expands from its main region.

The carrier, a unit of AirTran Holdings Inc., plans to increase capacity 30% this year as it adds 19 aircraft, President Robert Fornaro told Bloomberg News. AirTran, which plans to begin flights to Indianapolis in April, will soon announce another new city for its system.

"We will fill in our route structure, open a couple of cities and fill out our network, connecting the dots," Fornaro said. "About three-quarters of our expansion will be east of the Mississippi and the rest will be coast-to-coast."

The Orlando-based carrier plans to add more east-west flights because of strong competition along the East Coast. The carrier lost a bid in December to add gates at Chicago Midway Airport and establish a Midwestern hub. AirTran also slowed previous plans to expand at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, where Delta Air Lines Inc. recently reduced flights.

"Our game plan is to grow in Dallas, but we're going to control the timeframe and not get hung up on incentives and the various commitments you have to make to get the incentives," Fornaro said. The Dallas-Fort Worth airport offered a $22 million incentive package to lure airlines to gates dropped by Delta.

AirTran bookings "look quite good for the next several months" and "the revenue outlook is quite healthy right now" even with lower fares, Fornaro said.


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