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Worth it


  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 10:00 a.m. December 26, 2014
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
  • Entrepreneurs
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One of the most significant decisions Sarasota developer Jim Bridges made in 2014 was something counter to industry norms: He delayed the construction start of a $50 million hotel project, an Embassy Suites in downtown Sarasota, so it could be redesigned to add more energy efficiency components.

The costs, in the delayed start and extra work, will be high. And time is literally money in what's now a highly competitive downtown Sarasota hotel market, with three other projects in walking distance. But Bridges says “the return on the extra dollars are excellent.”

Construction of the 18-story, 200-room Embassy Suites, on Tamiami Trail across the street from the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, was supposed to begin in fall 2014. Plans also include a restaurant, a ballroom and a parking garage. But after conversations with his team of engineers about the potential changes, Bridges says the decision to delay was an easy call. A groundbreaking, says Bridges, might now take place by February or March.

“It's a complex structure,” says Bridges, “and you only get one chance to do this right.”

The Embassy Suites is one of several projects that moved the low-key Bridges into the Sarasota developer spotlight in 2014.

Bridges, through his firm, Sarasota-based Jebco Ventures, currently has at least $100 million in projects in the Sarasota area. In addition to the Embassy Suites, the list includes the Q, a residential project with 39 two- and three-story townhomes on Ringling Boulevard in downtown Sarasota; a four-building, four-story 12-unit townhome project at Golden Gate Point, also in downtown Sarasota; and a 40,000-square-foot Walmart Neighborhood Market on Bee Ridge and Beneva roads that opened in November. Other projects, some not officially announced, include retail stores and potentially a coffee shop off Fruitville Road in downtown Sarasota.

The Walmart is the first of the recent cycle of projects now open for business. The grand opening was Nov. 19 — more than a week before Black Friday. “We were glad to get that open by November,” Bridges says. “It's a beautiful store.”

Work on the Q, says Bridges, is also moving along. Construction of the first four buildings is underway and work on the fifth and sixth buildings will start in early 2015. The first sales closed in early December, and a few more closings are scheduled for January. “We are building that as quickly as we can,” says Bridges.

The Golden Gate Point project, like the Embassy Suites and the Q, is complex, Bridges says. It's planned under alternative zoning rules Sarasota officials passed in 2008 to encourage developers to build out, not up, so there's more variety and interaction among neighbors. Bridges tells the Sarasota Observer, sister paper of the Business Observer, that he hopes his timing will be spot on with the project.

“To my knowledge, there hasn't been more than one townhome project downtown in the past 20 years,” Bridges says in the August story. “We found there were certain advantages there.”

The biggest challenge in all this activity, Bridges says, is the same issue that confounds many other builders and developers: the tight construction labor market. Bridges addresses that on a project-by-project basis.

Other challenges more prevalent in the recession, says Bridges, have begun to subside. “Interests rates have stayed low and banks are more willing to look at our projects,” he says. “But we are very careful about what we do, and we do a lot of research before we move forward.”

 

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