On Air Now    09:00 PM - 11:00 PM
Up Next    11:00 PM - 01:00 AM

Colson Hotel’s Preservation Appealed by Developer

Written by on Saturday, April 20, 2024

He says he’d sell the land with strings attached; otherwise he’ll tear down the historic refuge for Black travelers.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: Apr. 19, 2024

Host: The Colson Hotel was a refuge for traveling African Americans in Sarasota from the 1920s through the end of segregation. Last week, a local panel told the developer who bought the land under that building that Colson cannot be torn down. Now the developer appealed and the matter will come before the city commission. Ramon Lopez reports.

Ramon Lopez: Preservationists in Sarasota are trying to save the dilapidated Colson Hotel from the wrecking ball. The structure is on Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation’s “six to save” list. A developer’s request to Sarasota City’s Historic Preservation Board to tear down the historic building was rejected in a five-to-nothing vote, on April 9th.

But the real estate builder, Max Vollmer of Tampa, had ten days to appeal the unanimous ‘nay’ votes; and he did so on April 17th. The demolition request is now destined to go before a future Sarasota City Commission public hearing.

Historians say the Colson Hotel is one of the city’s most important landmarks. It was built in 1926, in the area formerly known as Overtown, where Black Americans put down roots. Built by Owen Burns, one of the city’s most notable builders. It was named for Rev. Lewis Colson. He was the first free Black American to settle in Sarasota. Colson helped establish Overtown, which is now known as the Rosemary District.

Colson Hotel

The building at 1425 Eighth Street was the site of Sarasota’s first Black hotel. It accommodated African-American workers and travelers looking for a place to sleep in Jim Crow segregated Sarasota. During its heyday, the 28-room hotel also provided lodging for traveling black entertainers and black pro athletes. The ground floor of the two-story building had a barbershop and beverage bar.

Over the ensuing years, Overtown evolved. Original houses have been replaced by pricey condo and townhouse developments, pushing out the original residents. Max Vollmer bought what remains of the U-shaped, Mediterranean Revival-style hotel on a half-acre lot for the bargain-basement price of $550,000 in 2023.

He then applied for a demolition permit. He would build as many as nineteen, three-story, two or three bedroom, townhomes, costing nearly $1 million each. Max Vollmer said the building is in terrible shape: extensive mold, water rot, termite damage and unsafe load-bearing walls. He testified that it would cost over $2 million to save the structure. Demolishing it makes the most sense, said the real estate developer.

But over a dozen public speakers at the historic preservation board hearing urged the board members to save the historic Colson Hotel. We hear from Newtown native and community leader Walter Gilbert.

Walter Gilbert: I’m fourth generation here in Sarasota. I remember running around in Overtown, which is now known as Rosemary district. I kind of feel bad for this guy. I don’t think he understood what he was getting into with that building and the historical value to, not only the black community, but the entire community. 

That building is one of the few buildings that’s left in that area from that era. So the significance that that building has, once again, to the entire community is great. I would like to see, and people I represent would like to see, that building remain in some shape or form in some type of historical setting. If this person can pull that off, we would really appreciate that, sir, if you could do that with that property. We would be forever grateful if you could do that.

RL: While awaiting the outcome of his appeal to the city commissioners, Vollmer said he was open to possibly selling the property to someone who would renovate the building in a timely way, to preserve it in some capacity to reflect its significance in Sarasota’s history.

We hear from Historic Preservation Board Chairman Tony Souza and Max Vollmer.

Tony Souza: I’ve been in this business for 40 years, so I know what it’s like to fix these places up. Way beyond anything you can imagine, but it happens. It happens. And I think that this building deserves to happen again in some capacity. 

I had heard that you were considering selling this building. I don’t know if that’s true or not. And I read about, I read in your description here, your personal feelings about feeling bad that you had to tear the building down. I understand that. So if we all feel that bad, and we could find some way of using this building and still allow you to do a nice development next door, what would be wrong with that?

Max Vollmer: Nothing. If some group or whatever comes together and says they’re going to take that on, as long as they’re taking it on and doing the renovation and the renovation is in process and started before we move dirt on the construction next door, I have no issues. But if some group takes it on and does nothing for the next five, ten years, it’s not gonna help.

If somebody wants to compensate us for that piece, you know, what we’ve spent so far on the piece of the land and the cost associated with it, and they take on the entire renovation, I would like to be involved in it, to make sure it is going to get done in a fashion where, you know, how it’s supposed to be promised that when I have a clear contract that it’s going to be done, it’s going to be renovated. And who’s the contractor? I want to underwrite the contract. I’m making sure that this person actually is able to get it done. And I want to see the process happening. And if it doesn’t happen within 30 days, then go back to the demolition. If nobody wants to take it on.

RL: This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.



WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our 1/2 hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm.