Photo by Harold Bubil

Ringling shopping center moving ahead again

Redevelopment plans finally can move forward for the dilapidated downtown shopping center once proposed to become a Wal-Mart.

The owners of the Ringling Shopping Center won approval Monday night for a series of revisions to Sarasota’s planning designations for the 9.7-acre property at Ringling Boulevard and Lime Avenue that would allow it to be redeveloped with up to 222 residential units and 175,000 square feet of commercial or office space.

The City Commission’s unanimous vote satisfies a settlement agreement struck last fall between the owners and the city to end the legal battle that erupted in 2013 after the commission denied plans for a Wal-Mart Supercenter at the site.

Final plans for the potential development are still far off, though.

The Doyles, who own the center now, plan to sell it to a mixed-use developer who will design and construct the final project, the family’s attorney, Robert Lincoln, has said. Although several potential buyers have expressed interest in the property, each wanted to wait to negotiate until the planning changes were formally approved.

With that approval in hand, serious negotiations to sell should begin immediately, Lincoln said. But that means an application to redevelop the property would likely wait until the sale is under contract, if not until after it’s transferred hands, he said.

“Nobody’s interested in pursuing the property until the deal is done,” Lincoln said. “There is no site plan and there is no user, which means we don’t know what the site plan’s going to be … and this where a lot of the other questions from the community start coming up.”

The new development will replace the city’s oldest, sparsely used shopping center and could include townhouses facing Lime Avenue on the east side of the property and an enhanced “boulevard” driveway entrance into the site with sidewalks and a landscaped median, according to city documents.

Despite sustained public outcry against the planned Wal-Mart, the latest efforts to redevelop the site have been much more amicable.

Neighbors and the city’s Planning Board, however, have expressed concerns that the final site plan should include some kind of pedestrian and bicycle access across the property to Payne Park, as was enjoyed across the current shopping center for many years.

To combat that fear, the owners have proffered a stipulation that the next owner of the property must include a multi-use pathway across the property in its next plans, Lincoln said.

Nearby Alta Vista residents and business owners, such as architect Jerry Sparkman, have also warned that the property should be carefully considered during its design phase to ensure it’s not overbuilt as a big block.

Although the new plans are a sharp increase in potential density for the site, between the 175,000 square feet of commercial space and 222 residential units, it would be virtually impossible to build the site to that maximum, Lincoln and city planners have said. Physically fitting the buildings on the site combined with rules for parking, storm water, access and height will all “organically” limit just how much is ultimately built, city planners told the Planning Board last month.

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