Downtown Venice, a cross between quaint Old Florida and modern Florida Mediterranean architecture, has mostly missed out on one key element for several years: commercial development.
Sarasota cardiac surgeon and real estate investor Dr. Thomas Kelly now hopes to put a dent in the deficiency.
Kelly, who has been on the medical staff at Sarasota Memorial Hospital since 1983, bought the Bank of America building on Venice Avenue last fall. Through a team of commercial real estate brokers, contractors and architects, Kelly recently announced ambitious plans for the three-story landmark building next to the post office and two blocks from Venice City Hall.
The project is a combination of internal and external renovations. Plans inside include redoing the second floor and turning the third floor from storage to a row of small offices in the range of 500 to 1,500 square feet. The outside blueprints include new columns, walkways, windows and eventually, an improved parking lot. The BofA branch on the first floor, 15,870 square feet, isn't scheduled to undergo any changes.
“The building has really great bones, but the skin really needs some help,” says Mark Beebe, a Venice-based architect hired by Kelly. Beebe spoke at a recent event that touted the project. “I think we will do enough to make the building new without functionally changing it.”
Venice-based J.E. Charlotte Construction Corp. has been hired to do the build out.
Kelly declined to elaborate on his plans for the building or how much the project will cost. He deferred questions to Loyd Robbins, a commercial real estate broker with Sarasota-based Harry E. Robbins Associates. Robbins assisted the doctor with the purchase of the building.
“We want this to be something the entire city could be proud of,” Robbins says. “This should be the Class A financial center for Venice.”
Indeed, Robbins and Dan McLeroy Jr., another broker in the firm, plan to market space on the second and third floor to accountants, wealth management firms and financial planners. The brokers say a few companies in Sarasota are interested in the smaller spaces for satellite offices to reach clients in south Sarasota County.
Kelly, an elected member of Sarasota Memorial Hospital Board, paid $2 million for the 36,371-square-foot building in October, according to Sarasota County property records. The building was 55% occupied at the time of the sale.
The building was built in 1975 and has since gone through few exterior renovations. Says McLeroy: “A lot of people were wondering if this property was ever going to be improved.”
A few local developers and real estate brokers say one reason for the stagnation, both within the BofA building and downtown Venice, is some previous city leaders held an anti-growth mindset for years. But the BofA project and three recently elected pro-growth city commissioners have given people hope.
Jeff Charlotte, the general contractor behind the BofA project, says he's even talking to people about possibly doing a high-end steakhouse in the building — a notion previously unthinkable in downtown Venice. “I'm seeing a tremendous uptick in activity,” says Charlotte. “I'm very encouraged.”