Visit Sarasota County relocating downtown Sarasota Visitor Center to Chamber of Commerce offices

Main Street facility closing on Friday, Aug. 18

The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce offices are located on Fruitville Road in Sarasota. Image from Google Maps

Visit Sarasota County (VSC) will be moving its Sarasota Visitor Center from its Main Street location to 1945 Fruitville Road, the county’s tourism agency announced this week.

VSC will be leasing space from the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, a news release says.

The Visitor Center located at 1710 Main St. will close on Friday Aug. 18, in preparation for the move, the release points out. The new office will be open no later than Oct. 1, the release adds.

The Main Street site is owned by Big Main Street LLC, whose principal is Chris Brown of Osprey, according to the Florida Division of Corporations. Brown is a co-owner of multiple businesses in the community, including two restaurants and The Beach Club in Siesta Village. He has acquired other properties in downtown Sarasota in recent years.

The Main Street building VSC has occupied was formerly owned by Bridgestone Retail Operations; Brown purchased it in December 2014. That same month, VSC made the move downtown, leaving the Chidsey Center on the Sarasota bayfront.

Virginia Haley. File photo

In a May 12, 2014 letter to Sarasota County’s Facilities Services Office, Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, wrote that her organization would be terminating its sub-lease of the Chidsey Center on Dec. 12. “We have struggled with the City of Sarasota for proper signage at the location since August of 2009 and can no longer continue to operate a visitor information center in a location that is not only difficult to access, in desperate need of upgrades to sidewalks and facilities, but with no proper signage other than [Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT)] signposts, visitors simply cannot find us,” she added.

In the release issued this week, Haley said, “Over the past several years we have conducted extensive research on visitor traffic patterns and visitor service needs. The Chamber’s location and space was a major driving force in our decision to move.” She added, “This move further solidifies the strength in our partnership and how we work together to mutually benefit the community and visitors alike.”

“Our community has seen, and I think benefitted from, a long-standing and strong partnership between the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and Visit Sarasota County,” noted Kevin Cooper, president of the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, in the release. “So, for the both of us and this community, the move is a logical progression for that partnership,” he added in the release.

The current budget for Visit Sarasota County projects total spending on visitor services at $131,000, with

$50,000 allocated to administrative costs. The agency has projected no change in its administrative expense for the 2018 fiscal year, which will begin on Oct. 1, according to documents provided in May to the county’s Tourist Development Council (TDC). The “Administrative” category encompasses payments for computer maintenance, computer supplies and equipment, office supplies, and legal fees, the budget breakdown shows.

The Sarasota Chamber offices are located near downtown Sarasota, at 1945 Fruitville Road. Image from Google Maps

The proposed FY18 budget does note that spending on visitor services is projected to go up to $195,000. Included in the breakdown for that category is $57,500 for “Chamber Collaborations, Visitor Centers & Kiosks,” up from $20,000 in FY17.

VSC will continue to partner with the county’s other chambers of commerce to offer services to visitors, the news release this week points out. Those other chambers are the Englewood Chamber of Commerce, the North Port Chamber of Commerce, the Venice Chamber of Commerce, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce and the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce.

While the move is underway, the release continues, VSC will maintain its visitor services operations at its welcome center desk — manned with visitor services specialists — at The Mall at University Town Center off University Parkway, the release points out, and it will have a visitor center at the World Rowing Championships at Nathan Benderson Park from Sept. 23 through Oct. 1.

VSC also operates the VIV (Visitor Information Vehicle), the agency’s portable visitor information center, the release notes. That vehicle travels throughout Sarasota County, welcoming visitors at festivals and other events. The annual expense of the VIV was pegged at $5,000 in the current and 2018 fiscal years, according to the documents provided to the TDC in May.