(April 1, 2016 — Siesta Key) News that Benderson Development Company has obtained options on land in Siesta Village for a planned 50-story Benderson Tower has residents of Siesta Key in an uproar.
Benderson has made plans to acquire the Terrace condominium complex near the heart of Siesta Village. The 45-unit condo tower, at 17 stories, is the tallest building on the island. But the structure, built in 1973, will be razed to make way for a 50-story skyscraper that will dominate not only the Siesta Key skyline, but Sarasota’s as well.
The ambitious developer had been working quickly but quietly to secure rights to the needed property for the tower. However, a paralegal in a local law firm assisting in the property acquisition told a relative who lives on Siesta Key about the plans. That resident tipped off The Sarasota News Leader, which began an immediate investigation.
“We wanted to keep this under wraps for a few more months,” a Benderson spokesman told the News Leader. “But since the company has acquired enough control of the land to proceed with the project, I guess it’s OK to talk about it now.”
According to Florida law, if 80 percent of condominium owners agree to sell their units to a developer, the condominium agreement is broken and the remaining owners are required by law to sell as well. The Benderson spokesman told the News Leader the company’s attorneys have obtained contracts with the owners of 38 of the Terrace units, giving the firm effective ownership of the entire property. The holdout owners are limited in their demands for a selling price, and they have no veto power in the deal.
“This project will be so spectacular that it easily will become the most recognizable building on the entire Gulf Coast,” the spokesman said. “It will redefine the market’s expectations of luxurious condominium living in Florida.”
The project, which is expected to cost about $500 million, will feature 192 condominium and penthouse residences, ranging from 1,991 to 6,150 square feet. While selling prices have not been set for the residences, the starting price for a basic unit is expected to be around $900,000, while penthouses likely would fetch more than $20 million each.
Sarasota County commissioners were characteristically delighted with this potential development, which would mean thousands of construction jobs for the county economy. None wished to speak publicly about the proposal, but all promised to give it a fair hearing.
However, an official in the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, who wished to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak about the project, said the commissioners wanted the project “fast-tracked.”
He added that his department was investigating how Transfers of Development Rights (TDRs) could be used to justify the exceptional height and density of the project. He noted that there was considerable pressure to move quickly on preliminary approvals.
“We’re going to be putting in some overtime on [the planning of] this project,” he said. “If construction begins, it will require us to increase our staff by almost 25 percent.”
Meanwhile, the swiftness of the Terrace acquisition apparently was due to a part-time Sarasota resident who owns one of the penthouse condos in that building. Promised a penthouse in the completed Benderson Tower in an even swap, this owner became the primary catalyst for encouraging other Terrace owners to sell, the News Leader learned.
The Benderson spokesman declined to comment on rumors that the company also was buying up options in Siesta Village, with plans to bulldoze the entire area for the construction of a new mall, to be called UTC-Siesta Key.
An emergency joint meeting of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, the Siesta Key Association and the Siesta Key Village Association will be held at 8 a.m. Saturday at St. Boniface Episcopal Church to map out a strategy for responding to the Benderson plans, leaders of the organizations told the News Leader.
(Editor’s note: We hope you have enjoyed our April Fools levity. The date will not coincide with our publication day again until 2022.)