Seasonal residents and tourists marking a number of changes occurring in Siesta Village

New restaurants and improvements at Siesta Beach Resort in the works

Even on an early November evening, parking places are at a premium in Siesta Village. Rachel Hackney photo

Snowbirds who have returned to Siesta Key for the season — and the burgeoning number of visitors — are seeing a number of changes taking place in Siesta Village, as 2017 draws closer to an end.

If all goes as planned, a new upscale steak and seafood restaurant will be open no later than early January 2018 in the Village, Island business owner Chris Brown told The Sarasota News Leader in a recent telephone interview.

“We think there’s a void” among Key dining establishments that that type of business will fill, he said.

Although Brown had narrowed down options for the company that will operate the restaurant, he declined to offer any details until after a deal had been sealed.

The location will be the site of the former Blue Que Island Grill: 149 Avenida Messina. That restaurant was just down the street from The Cottage and The Hub Baja Grill, both of which Brown also owns.

The Beach Club was Brown’s first venture into business in Siesta Village. A few years ago, he also bought the Siesta Market property and worked with the family behind Morton’s Gourmet Market in Southside Village to transform the grocery store and deli in the Village into Morton’s Siesta Market on Canal Road.

Siesta architect Mark Smith — who worked with Brown on the design of the new restaurant — told the News Leader back in May that the transformation of the Blue Que building would be an extensive one, as the remodeling would have to comply with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood elevation standards.

Through his CJB Property Development company, Brown bought the property in June 2008, paying $1.3 million for it.

Long-time Key residents will recall that for a number of years, the property housed Maximo, which featured cuisine with a South African influence.

This is not Chris Brown’s first attempt to create an upscale dining establishment with a focus on steaks.

In October 2013, the Sarasota City Commission nixed a proposed New Orleans-style redesign Brown sought for the historic Kress Building Brown had bought at 1400 Main St in downtown Sarasota. (The previous tenant was Patrick’s restaurant, which was forced out by the former property owner as part of that owner’s attempt to construct a high-rise condominium on the site.)

The structure at 149 Avenida Messina awaited transformation in December 2016. Photo from Google Maps

After Brown bought the Kress Building, he made the first application ever to the city’s Neighborhood and Development Services Department for “encroachment” of the right of way. Brown’s proposal was to “wrap” the Five Points structure with “galleries.” They would provide shade for the sidewalks and room for up to 78 café tables on a second-floor covered porch overlooking Main Street.

The new restaurant has not been the only project keeping Brown busy. On Nov. 7, he and business partner Mike Granthon — who manages The Hub, The Cottage and The Beach Club — became the new owners of the Key Corners Center 7. That complex, at the southwest intersection of Ocean Boulevard and Avenida Messina, is right across from The Hub and The Cottage.

The seller was Deborah J. Houghton, whose family had owned the property since 1986, Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records show.

The acquisition will help considerably with the valet parking for his restaurants, Brown explained to the News Leader. Altogether, he will have about 150 spaces his valet service can use, he said; because the shops and the restaurant Another Broken Egg in Key Corners are closed at night, valets can double- and triple-park vehicles in the spaces at the plaza, Brown pointed out. “It’s really going to help the congestion. … We’re trying to get the parking as organized as possible.”
Brown also noted that, of course, the valet parking is complimentary. “I’m trying to solve issues,” he added.

Brown told the News Leader his first order of business was cleaning up the plaza so it would look its best.

Napoli’s eviction

Napoli’s relocated to a Key Corners spot in 2013 and was celebrating its grand opening there in January 2014. Rachel Hackney photo

One tenant in Key Corners moved out about 10 days before Chris Brown closed on the plaza: Napoli’s, a long-time Village dining establishment known for its pizza and other Italian entrees.

Napoli’s long stood where Gidget’s Coastal Provisions is located in Siesta Village, next to SKOB.

The News Leader learned from 12th Judicial Circuit Court records that Napoli’s owner, Bruno Izzo, was evicted from Key Corners, effective Oct. 30.

On May 18, Timothy J. Jones of Sarasota, the sublessor of Key Corners Center, filed a complaint against Izzo, saying

Izzo was $138,865.59 in arrears on rent “and other financial obligations … not inclusive of late fees, which is a default under the Sublease.”

A settlement agreement between Izzo and Jones, dated Oct. 2, said the case would be dismissed with prejudice — meaning it could be refilled if the parties did not fulfill the terms. Izzo and Jones were to handle their individual attorneys’ fees and costs, it added.

An order signed by Judge Frederick P. Mercurio on Oct. 4, affirming the settlement, indicated that back rent Izzo had paid over the past months would be returned to him. The amount noted in the order was $73,656.89.

Jones’ lien on the property dated to June 2013, when Izzo rented the space in Key Corners, the complaint pointed out.

A copy of the lease said the base rent was $6,500 per month, beginning in September 2013. (Jones waived the rent for July and August of that year, the lease said.)

On July 1, 2014, the rent went up to $7,300 per month, the document noted. Then, on July 1, 2017, it climbed to $8,048.

Transforming the former Jo-To property

Work has been underway to open up the front of the former Jo-To restaurant on Ocean Boulevard. Rachel Hackney photo

Another new restaurant is planned on Ocean Boulevard in the Village.

On May 1, Jim Syprett and Jay Lancer bought the former Jo-To Japanese Restaurant property at 5218 Ocean Blvd. for $1,350,000, according to the records of the Sarasota County Property Appraiser.

At the time, Syprett told the News Leader he was not certain he and Lancer would seek a new restaurant tenant, but he pointed out that because of the Siesta Key Overlay District’s zoning regulations, that would be “the most beneficial use of the property.”

In early November, Syprett reported that negotiations were well underway with a restaurateur. He declined to offer any clues about those discussions, saying only, “I think the tenant will be somebody everyone will be happy to welcome [to the Village].”

He also could not provide an exact timeline for the conclusion of the negotiations, he said, but he indicated that it could come shortly after the deadline for Siesta Sand’s December issue.

While tenant talks have continued, work also has been underway to open up the front of the building’s first floor, Syprett noted; the goal is to create a patio-like atmosphere. That open area will extend about 12 feet from the corner on the south side of the structure, he added, stopping just before a side door by the driveway.

Sliding glass doors will be installed around the open area, Syprett continued, to provide protection from the weather, as needed.

It will be fun for diners to have a view of the activity in the Village and to be able to speak to passersby they know, he added.

“I think it will look much better than it’s looked for a long time,” he said of the building. “I think it’ll be much more inviting.”

According to Sarasota County permitting records, Syprett and Lancer also have invested in new plumbing and electrical equipment and a new air conditioning system, along with the new façade, at an estimated cost of $150,000. William T Enterprises, which does business as Pittman Construction of Sarasota, is the building contractor for the project, the county records note.

The permit was issued on Oct. 4, the county document shows, with an expiration date of April 2, 2018.

Siesta Beach Resort upgrades underway

Poolside rooms are across the street from the main building at Siesta Beach Resort. Roger Drouin photo

In May, property investor Michael Holderness and partners acquired the Siesta Beach Resort & Suites for $9.7 million, but renovations they planned have been delayed and scaled back because of what Holderness described as a cumbersome county permitting process.

Originally, Holderness anticipated having the resort’s new features completed the day after Christmas. “Design and permitting took much longer than expected,” he told Roger Drouin, who spoke with Holderness recently on behalf of the Siesta Sand publication on the Key. “We had to keep scaling it back,” he added of the renovations, even though his aim was just try “to fix what is broken” at the property, which is showing its age; it was built in 1955.

Another difficulty with which he has had to contend is the fact that the facilities are in the coastal zone designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and FEMA has strict renovation requirements.

Some improvements will have to be put on hold for a year because of the approach of high season, Holderness pointed out.

Nonetheless, after having to modify his vision for some of the upgrades, Holderness has focused on others. Among those, Holderness said, will be a one-of-a-kind pool and lounge area, instead of a resurfaced pool as originally envisioned.

Much work should be completed by February, Holderness told Siesta Sand, adding that he remains excited about the project. “It will still be beautiful and amazing.”

Workers already have painted the rooms, after completing a thorough cleaning, he added, and he recently did receive a permit so he can replace exterior railings, windows and doors throughout the property.

At least Hurricane Irma caused no major damage to the resort buildings, though the storm did result in a lot of debris being cleared away on the island.

“I was very thankful,” Holderness said. “I called [Irma] Mother Nature’s sweeping broom.”