Could new condo project signal Suncoast housing rebound?

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SARASOTA - The housing bust that sent so many Suncoast homes into foreclosure also slowed development of luxury real estate. A planned condo project in downtown Sarasota could change that.

But the coming development means that a couple of main street businesses will have to find new homes.

"We have four retail shops fronting on main street," says Thomas Mannausa as he points to a rendering of a luxury condo tower he calls "The Jewel." The developer bought an empty lot at the corner of Main St. and Gulfstream Ave. in Sarasota and two adjoining properties, where he says the 209-foot-tall building will go in. “Every unit will have an unobstructed view of Sarasota bay, the Ringling bridge, the Siesta Key bridge,” he says.

He has taken deposits on five of the 18 units already, he says, and plans to start construction next May. But that beginning will mean the end of a longtime downtown hangout, at least at its current address.

“It's really a mixed emotion deal,” says Bob Richards, co-owner of The Sports Page Bar and Grille. “Kind of bittersweet.” The restaurant has sat on Main St. in under some name since 1985. “It isn't something that we sought to do,” Richards says. “It came to us.”

The sale closed in July, and The Sports Page now leases its space from Mannausa. Mannausa says that the state of the real estate market made this a good time to buy the properties, which also include the Living Walls furniture store. Now he will find out if this is a good time to sell real estate here, but feels confident. “I just think because there hasn't been new construction for the last seven years,” says Mannausa, “and because our location is spectacular.”

If it comes to pass, it will continue the trend that the housing bust interrupted – modern mid-to-high rise mixed-use buildings replacing old businesses like The Sports Page. And if Richards is sad to see it go, he is happy to see what downtown has become. “There's a lot of enthusiasm and there's a lot of new ideas about what could be done downtown and a lot of it's coming around,” he says. “And we're really thrilled and happy to have been part of it.”

Richards has a real estate broker helping him search for a new location somewhere close to where it is now. The Jewel will have retail space on its first floor, but Richards is not sure a sports bar will work in a condo building whose asking prices are between $1.5 and 3 million. The 17-month construction would also cost him is customer base, he says.

Mannausa says that he has drawn interest in his project, despite the fact that he has not spent any money advertising it in newspaper or magazine ads.