Sarasota County has selected an architectural team led by a Sarasota-based design firm to explore issues surrounding a potential relocation of county administrative offices, which could lead to one of the largest new office developments in the county in a decade.
The selection of Sweet Sparkman Architects and Interiors marks the first step in what is expected to be a lengthy process aimed at developing a more modern — and perhaps geographically centrally located — headquarters for county officials and departments.
“We’re very early on in the process, and now staff really needs to hear more from (county commissioners) to determine their goals and to help us formulate a plan logistically to move forward,” says Brad Gaubatz, a manager of capital projects with the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources agency.
Sweet Sparkman is expected to provide consulting services to assist the county on deciding whether to enter into a design-build contract with a developer or a public-private partnership.
Ultimately, county officials are hoping to develop a roughly 200,000-square-foot, Class A administrative complex to replace an aging office building at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota, according to a county request for professional services issued in early July.
At that size, the new building would be roughly equivalent to the 13-story Sarasota City Centre tower, also in downtown and one of the last major office buildings to be developed in Sarasota.
Tampa-based Feldman Equities and partners acquired that 1819 Main St. building in late February for roughly $50 million.
County leaders late last year began floating the idea of moving from 1660 Ringling Blvd. after learning that some $60 million in repairs and upgrades would be necessary.
The six-story building, completed in 1979 and purchased from GTE, has served as the county’s primary quarters and public meeting space since 1995. It houses the Sarasota County Attorney’s office and various departments but is currently not in compliance with hurricane building code requirements or modern security measures.
“The existing building is aging and needs significant investment in maintenance,” the county’s request for services states. “The site of the existing administration building may have greater value if put to another use. The County desires to build a new facility in a more suitable location.”
A potential move from Sarasota — where the county seat has remained for a century — could also answer criticisms from North Port and Venice, in particular, that county offices are no longer in close proximity to the bulk of the jurisdiction’s population.
County officials are negotiating a contract with Sweet Sparkman now for its scope of services, which are likely to begin with determining current and future county office space needs. If a contract is finalized, the roughly 20-year-old design firm also would conduct a security analysis for future needs, outline energy and water conservation measures and estimate construction costs for a new facility, the professional services request notes.
Sweet Sparkman, one of three firms to reply to the county’s early July request, has done extensive work for the government.
In addition to designing a new county $32 million courthouse in Venice together with international design firm DLR Group’s Orlando office, Sweet Sparkman has provided numerous designs for county restrooms, fire stations and other facilities. DLR Group also is part of the team the firm put together for the administrative office review, Gaubatz says.
“The county is an extremely important client of ours and has been for years, and we’re very familiar with, and sensitive to, the pride they take in their facilities,” says Todd Sweet, a Sweet Sparkman founder and principal.
“And we bring a lot of historical knowledge to this project, so we’re thrilled to have been selected,” Sweet adds.
DLR Group has more than 1,000 architects on staff and maintains 28 offices in the U.S., Asia and the Middle East, according to its website.
In addition to space programming, the Sweet Sparkman and DLR Group team also is expected to be involved in site selection for a new county administration headquarters and design criteria.
Per county stipulation in its professional services request, neither Sweet Sparkman nor DLR Group will be allowed to be a part of any team that would submit a proposal to design or develop new county offices.
In addition to the county’s quarters at 1660 Ringling, Sweet Sparkman also will be tasked with analyzing space needs at the Sarasota County Operations Center, at 1001 Sarasota Center Blvd. and an Employee Services Center at 1301 and 1451 Cattlemen Road for a possible consolidation.
The firms may also be asked to become involved with the search for new facilities for the 12th District Medical Examiner’s office, which is being conducted independently.
Earlier this month, in response to another county request, a team comprising commercial real estate brokerage Hembree & Associates and Willis Smith Construction submitted a plan to the county to develop a new Medical Examiner’s office on a vacant tract on Fruitville Road.
Medical Examiner Russell Vega has been seeking a new facility for the agency for more than a decade, to better handle a growing workload and to provide staff with more modern medical equipment.