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Iconic Sarasota "Vault" building is purchased by investor

Deal will lead to an expanded brain research center

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  • | 6:00 a.m. September 13, 2019
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COURTESY PHOTO — Doug Libertore has purchased the Sarasota Art & Antique Center with the intent of opening a brain and autism research center there.
COURTESY PHOTO — Doug Libertore has purchased the Sarasota Art & Antique Center with the intent of opening a brain and autism research center there.
  • Commercial Real Estate
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One of Sarasota’s most iconic office and retail buildings has been sold to a local investor, who plans to move an expanding brain research organization to its second floor.

In the wake of the $4.1 million purchase late last month, investor Doug Libertore intends to transform the 640 S. Washington Blvd. building into 1 Health Place International and make the property a center for brain health, testing and research.

“The plan is to develop a world-class facility for people on the autism spectrum,” says Gregg Sledziewski, executive director of The Brain Research Center, which is currently housed in downtown Sarasota’s historic Kress Building, which Libertore purchased in early 2000.

“We want to do things that will be on the vanguard of what works to best help kids and others on the spectrum, because the spectrum isn’t one size fits all.”

Sledziewski says the research center plans to move later this year or early in 2020, depending on city permitting and build out. The center plans to more than triple its size when it moves to 640 S. Washington’s second floor.

“It met all of our needs,” he says. “It gives us some great flexibility, visibility along a major road in U.S. 301 (Washington Boulevard), it has great parking and access.”

The roughly 35,000-square-foot building, which houses the Crissy Galleries, Sarasota Vault Depository, Sarasota Rare Coin Gallery, Ashland Investments and, the world’s largest mail-order watch business, among other tenants, is commonly known as the “Vault Building” because of its history and components.

Its walls are three-feet thick in places, and at least one vault door measures a foot thick. The property, which is 24 feet above sea level, also contains more than 2,000 safety deposit boxes and an R-9 rated vault in the building — one of the strongest and most fortified in the state.

The building was partially developed in 1984 by a group of doctors from New Orleans, who envisioned building a chain of secure repositories for valuables nationwide. In addition to the “vault” in Sarasota, the group also built a similar facility in Pinellas County.

Those plans never materialized, however, and the half-finished building ultimately was taken over by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) in the mid-1980s.

Bruce Crissy Jr., the co-owner of Crissy Galleries, bought the building for $650,000 in 1993 and together with two partners began rehabbing it.

The trio invested more than $1 million to install walls, an elevator, plumbing and electricity.

With the construction completed and an idea to concentrate art and synergistic tenants in a single location, Crissy moved his art and antique business there and the Sarasota Art & Antique Center was born.

“This was just the right time for me (to sell),” says Crissy, 62. “The new owner will bring a different set of eyeballs to the table.”

Crissy intends to remain as a tenant on the building’s ground floor, however, at least for the foreseeable future.

Lee DeLieto Sr., a Michael Saunders & Co. commercial real estate broker who represented Crissy in the transaction, says Libertore made an exceptional move in recognizing the potential of the 1.65-acre property.

“He saw the opportunity to capture a unique asset,” DeLieto says.

Among its other attributes, the property is located in a federal Opportunity Zone, which would give Libertore various capital gains and tax benefits if he invests in the property and owns it for a decade.

“I take this sale as a very positive sign,” DeLieto says. “The buyer is local, and is someone who has come here and established businesses and is now re-investing and expanding in part because his previous endeavors have done very well.”

Sledziewski says the fate of the Kress Building remains unclear.

The three-story property on Main Street contains 24,000 square feet of usable space presently, but its zoning would allow for 10 floors of development.

One option that Libertore may consider is lodging. For more than a decade, hotel developers have flirted with the idea of opening a hospitality property in the heart of the city’s downtown.

If Libertore were to sell the Kress Building, it would likely fetch in excess of $5 million, based on its location and comparable sales.





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