Seaward Development has bought the Mira Mar building in downtown Sarasota — just shy of a year after it backed out of a deal that included plans to demolish the property because of safety concerns and replace it with condominiums.
Seaward President Matthew Leake says his company closed on the sale of the property this week after it reached a long-term agreement with existing tenants and felt comfortable the building was safe.
Seaward bought the property through an LLC named Miramar Acquisition Co., which it operates with a partner Leake declined to disclose. It paid $17.3 million for it, county records show. The seller is Mark Kaufman and related entities; Kaufman is a longtime prolific developer and landlord in Sarasota.
The historic Mira Mar is on Palm Avenue in Sarasota and is actually two buildings connected by a bridge. Originally built in 1922, it is not the original building that sits on the site, and many renovations and changes have been made in the past century. Over the years it’s served as a hotel and apartments, as well commercial use.
In an interview with the Business Observer on Wednesday and in a follow-up email, Leake reiterated several times that there are no immediate plans for the building and that it will be several years before any development plans are made.
“Essentially, we've got multiple years that the tenants will continue to operate, and we want the community to support the local businesses here, including ours,” he says. “So there's a minimum of a number of years before anything would occur.”
That commitment is important considering the brouhaha created last year when Seaward sought a demolition permit from the city to knock down the building in order to make way for a 70-unit condo complex. At the time, the company was in the process of buying the building from Kaufman. The request to demolish the building was eventually denied, but the concerns raised about safety led to angry refutations from long time tenants who argued they were being pushed out and that the issues weren’t as bad as being presented.
Seaward, which was a tenant in the Mira Mar, moved out around the time it backed out of the purchase agreement due to the safety concerns.
City officials became involved around that time and demanded shoring be put in place and that regular inspections be done to guarantee the structural integrity of the building.
Asked if he felt comfortable about the current condition of the building, Leake says, “I’m working from it today.”
He says the company is “relying on structural engineers and their experience to ensure that the building continues to be safe. That’s why they will continue to monitor it on regular basis and if they see changes, then we'll have to respond accordingly.”
While Seaward and Leake focus on, and push the message of, maintaining the status quo, that doesn’t mean they don’t have an eye toward the future.
Leake says the property could be attractive as a mixed-use development or, given the housing shortage and state incentives, for affordable housing.
“Let’s provide some consistency for the tenants and comfort so they can continue to focus on operating their businesses. And then let's peel back the layers of the onion for what the future holds, which would include considering feedback from the tenants’ community,” he says.
“Whatever happens with the property, if the building remains, if there's a development in the future, we want to honor the past contributions of the property in that context.”