More than five years since a plan to redevelop the iconic Bath & Racquet Club in south Sarasota first surfaced, heavy equipment began the demolition of the main building following a ceremonial groundbreaking in mid-July.
With Sarasota Mayor Kyle Battie manning the controls, a trackhoe knocked out the first chunks of the facility. Demolition started in earnest July 17. Developer Sarasota Springs LLC principal Fabio Di Prima says the 13.42-acre site, off Tamiami Trail on Robinhood Street, will be a clean slate in six to seven weeks.
In its place will be the reimagined Bath + Racquet Residences & Club, the name a nod to the half-century heritage of the property, adorned with a modern touch. Accompanied by the slogan, “An Icon is Reborn,” an all-new tennis, pickleball and swim complex will be surrounded by 256 luxury condominiums in Sarasota School of Architecture style, plus 65,000 square feet of commercial and office space, all nestled between a single-family neighborhood and Tamiami Trail.
Amy DiSalvo, a Realtor with Keller Williams on the Water leading the sales of the condominiums, has a deep connection to Bath & Racquet. She spent her childhood just yards away from the formerly 29-court facility.
“I grew up on Riverwood Court,” she says. “My kids played there, so it’s really an emotional place for us, too. It concerned me when it went up for sale, wondering what were they going to do with it.”
Bath & Racquet changed hands twice since 2017, with Sarasota Springs LLC acquiring it for $15.35 million in January 2022. The new owners carried forward the design of Sarasota’s Halflants + Pichette, with modifications made to move the plan through final city approvals and to relieve neighborhood concerns.
Those changes included elimination of a small grandstand for tournament seating; removal of a parking garage beneath raised tennis courts; enhanced landscape buffering; lighting protection from nearby homes; and restricting access from neighborhood streets. A walking trail around the development and a two-acre park will be accessible from, and open to, the neighborhood.
“This morning feels good to be here after probably 18 months, and it just represents for us a small step but a very, very important one,” Di Prima said at the recent event. “Bath & Racquet has been here for 50 years and we feel we feel very grateful to finally do something.”
The groundbreaking marked the start of Phase 2 of the project, the first phase being pre-sales of the initial building of condominiums and marketing the commercial space.
Phase 1 condos are nearly sold out, according to DiSalvo. In all, there will be 223 market-rate units priced between $600,000 and $1.5 million. In addition, 33 one-bedroom condos will be attainably priced for those at 120% or less of the area median income. The developer will initially retain ownership of the attainable units and make them available for rent.
There will be one-, two- and three-bedroom condominiums over multiple buildings with a private residents’ pool and amenities plus the commercial space, all designed around a rejuvenated private club that will include 13 outdoor tennis courts, 12 indoor and four outdoor pickleball courts, a members’ pool and members’ fitness center.
“We've sold 80% of Phase 1, and we have a long call list right now,” DiSalvo says. “There are three-bedroom units that are all one level and there are multi-level units. Phase 2 will be facing the tennis courts.”
Tenants for the commercial space are intended to complement the racquet club lifestyle with health and wellness, fitness, apparel, equipment and similar niche retailers and services. DiSalvo says the office space is garnering attention from some seeking a live-work lifestyle. The commercial space will be opened simultaneously with the first two phases of residences, with more phases to follow.
“Ideally we want to do a continuous construction cycle, but as far as people getting moved in, they're going to be doing that in phases,” Di Prima says, estimating completion of the project in three years.
A long rally
Plans for a redeveloped Bath & Racquet first surfaced in November 2017 when its owner announced plans to build 180 residential units around the facility and preserve 18 to 20 of the courts. Meeting with stiff neighborhood opposition, the plan was further refined and presented to surrounding residents in a March 2018 workshop. Residents returned serve again, in large part because of a proposal for a seven-story building on the site.
It wasn't until February 2020 when Bath & Racquet made it before the City Commission, but the plan failed to garner the supermajority of commission votes required to change the future land use designation of the site. That prevented the proposal from moving forward.
In May 2020, the site was purchased for $5.5 million by developer Mark Lucas, who in November 2021 secured unanimous City Commission approval for yet another iteration of the project that included 277 residential units. The club itself was closed in 2020, and since has fallen into disrepair.
In February, the neighborhood group filed a complaint in 12th Circuit Judicial Circuit Court, the petitioners alleging irregularities and inconsistencies with the zoning code, and that their appeal hearing denial by the City Commission was improper. That complaint was withdrawn after the developer agreed to additional concessions.
Di Prima says the neighbors' concerns were “reasonable.”
“We're very keen on doing something that's meaningful for the community, and when we bought the property in 2022 we were not aware of past conversations,” he says. “There were some concerns of the livability for some neighbors and we just addressed them. We heard them, we understood their perspective, we addressed them. We’ve tried to be more careful on landscaping, we're trying to be more careful with noise and trying to be more careful with lighting.
“They were genuine in their requests, which from my perspective made sense.”
This article originally appeared on sister site YourObserver.com.