The future of the historic Mira Mar Plaza remains uncertain

The commercial tenants of Mira Mar Square are on a roller coaster.

About 40 tenants in Mira Mar Square in downtown Sarasota are facing uncertainty again following an email they recently received from Red Property Management, which oversees the historic commercial property of its owners, Miramar Plaza Associates LTD.

After a previous demolition refusal by plaintiff Seaward Development and a July 28 notice to tenants that read, “The Mira Mar Plaza will continue under current ownership,” tenants received another notice Monday, which read, “at some point in the near future “. going forward, the owner intends to pick up where Seaward left off by applying for a demolition permit.”

“As a business owner, I’ve had enough of the drama,” says Jana Marie Gouwens, tenant for eight years and owner of Viziato By Jana Marie Esthetics. “It’s an expensive move for us and it would easily bankrupt some of us to start over in a new space.”

Seaward Development, a tenant of the century-old building, intended to build a 10-story mixed-use project in its place. On June 14, the demolition request was denied by the City of Sarasota Historic Preservation Board. Seaward subsequently withdrew an appeal that would have been presented to the city commissioners, and the purchase of the place was halted altogether. One of the main arguments for demolishing the building pointed to potentially dangerous conditions that would cost around $22 million to fix, an amount that far exceeded the value of the historic plaza.

Using the same argument, the last email received by the tenants denied the historical value of the building, stating that the landlord should “rebuild the building from the inside out”, one section at a time, forcing tenants to vacate the premises during the works. The email goes on to reiterate previous claims that the costs associated with this would exceed the value of the building itself, making it “financially feasible”.

However, the email also stated that “the owner will continue to operate the building in a safe manner (closely monitored by our professional structural engineers) to the extent reasonably fiscally prudent”.

Some historic preservation experts question the $22 million price tag to bring the building up to modern safety codes.

“It’s a historic building, so there’s no need to bring it up to code,” says Erin DiFazio, president of the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation, who met with the owner in hopes of finding solutions to maintain building. Various incentives and tax credits are available to help owners cover the cost of repairing nationally designated commercial historic structures.

But “if the goal is to take advantage of a 10-story tower, Mira Mar will never produce that kind of revenue,” DiFazio continues. “Current owners are still concerned that the return is too high to be worth it.”

Lorrie Muldowney, outgoing president of the alliance, said: “I think it’s important to realize that the numbers are preliminary, and a common oversight in this process is to understand that there is flexibility in the code to historically designated buildings. It’s up to staff to keep a close eye on that.”

The property owner applying for a demolition permit will need to submit their application to the Sarasota City Historic Board. In case of refusal, the applicant will have to appeal the decision to the municipal commissioners.

According to Jan Thornburg, senior communications officer for the City of Sarasota, the Historic Preservation Board would be required to consider a future demolition request due to the historic status of the Mira Mar structures.

No specific deadline for the sale of the building has been shared with the tenants. In the meantime, says Gouwens, “I will rally my troops and we will write to the city commission urging them to preserve this piece of history that we all love.”

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