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Sarasota County Portrait - What Makes Sarasota?

Posted by Sara Leicht on Tuesday, September 15th, 2015 at 6:21pm.

Florida Trend's September 2015  issue featured an article about Sarasota by Amy Martinez. 

Amy writes, " Sarasota's size, good schools and arts infrastructure are attracting a young 'creative class' of workers and entrepreneurs for whom quality-of-life considerations are paramount in deciding where to live and work "

EVOLUTION
by Amy Martinez

Traditionally, Sarasota and its economy have been defined by a large population of affluent retirees, highly rated beaches and a vibrant arts, scene - the legacy of, among others, circus legend John Ringling and his wife, Mable.  Ringling settled in Sarasota full time after years of visiting on vacation and left his mansion with its large art collection to the state of Florida when he died in 1936. 

The area's mainstay tourism and real estate related industries continue to thrive.  Local hotels report record numbers of visitors, and construction cranes have returned to the skyline of what for years has been one of Florida's most vibrant downtowns.  Developers have more than 30 projects under development or in the pipeline, including five hotels and a variety of residential buildings that could add as many as 2,800 dwellings downtown.

The economy, however, is evolving.  Sarasota's size, good schools and arts infrastructure are attracting a young "creative class" of workers and entrepreneurs for whom quality-of-life considerations are paramount in deciding where to live and work.  Some of Sarasota's fastest-growing companies are in tech-driven sectors such as health care innovation, which now accounts for about 70 employers and more than 2,500 jobs.  Hoping to push the diversification, economic developers now market the area as the "Creative Coast."

The overall economic momentum extends beyond downtown.  To the south, a surge in retired and second-home buyers is drawing renewed interest from large developers.  Canada-based Mattamy Homes and its partners spent $86 million on land for a new master-planned community with as many as 20,000 homes.  The property spans 9,650 acres in North Port and unincorporated Sarasota County.

After grinding to a halt during the recession, construction also is under way again at Palmer Ranch in southern Sarasota, and WCI Communities is pushing ahead with new developments in the Venice area.

Housing prices historically have been highest in the northern half of the county, sending many families and new residents, especially young service workers, southward into North Port, which has surpassed Sarasota as the country's most-populous city.

Friction between the northern and southern parts of the county over government attention and resources traditionally has been a political fact of life, but there are signs of change.  For the first time in its 93 year history, a majority of the county commission comes form the southern half of the county.  Parks and road projects in south county are getting more funding, North Port will soon be home to a county library and satellite campus for Suncoast Technical College.

Meanwhile, the city of Sarasota, where growth can be a sensitive issue, continues to be a magnet for developers.  Last year, Jacksonville developer, Ed Burr and his GreenPointe Communities paid $27 million for a 15-acre bayfront lot where a retail development called the Sarasota Quay once stood.  GreenPointe reportedly plans a mixed use project. 

Business and community leaders also have formed an initiative call Bayfront 20:20.  Organized by Visit Sarasota County, they're calling on the city to develop a long-range plan for 42 acres of public land around the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.  A parking lot and loading dock are prime targets for an upgrade.

Jesse Biter, a local real estate developer and technology entrepreneur, embodies the optimism that is pervasive in Sarasota these days.  Tired of winter, he moved down form Pennsylvania 15 years ago after visiting Florida, seeking warm weather and a business-friendly climate.  He's now part of the movement to create a thriving tech scene in Sarasota.  "I picked Sarasota because it was the nicest place I could find, and there's a great mix of people," he says.  " We have the tech.  We have the arts.  When you build something, you need all those pieces."

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