Host: A New York developer has stirred up controversy with a big mixed-use project in downtown Sarasota. To make Project Orange Crush happen, the company argues, the city must not only give it an entire public street. Also, on that street, there is a historical building the developer wants to tear down. WSLR reporter Ramon Lopez has a close look at the McAlpin House case.
Ramon Lopez: The rustic block home built by Sarasota founding father George McAlpin in the Burns Court neighborhood had been targeted for demolition.
A developer plans a major construction project in the area of downtown Sarasota, which includes the McAlpin Home erected in 1912. But the historic structure was recently given a “stay of execution” by the Sarasota City Commission, saving it from destruction through at least March 2024.
After discussing how to balance growth with preservation, the commissioners moved to give the developer time to rework their site plan, or find a suitable new location for the house.
And Mayor Kyle Battie hinted at last week’s Sarasota City Commission meeting that he might have come up with a scheme that will save the McAlpin Home from the wrecking ball.
The 1,792 square-foot McAlpin Home is located at 1530 Cross Street. It was designated a historic structure in 1984, but it is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is part of a three-acre, $32 million parcel that was purchased by Orange Pineapple LLC.
The developer seeks to demolish the McAlpin Home to make way for a major mixed-use project. The company is appealing the Historic Preservation Board’s 4-0 vote in July to deny an application requesting demolition.
The Preservation Board recommended that the developer move the building, to preserve it for future generations of Sarasota residents. At issue is whether the precast concrete blocks used to build the house are worth saving. The board said it would even pay for the building’s relocation, if a proper site could be found.
A scheme hatched last year to move the house about 100 feet west, to the former site of Nancy’s Barbecue at 301 South Pineapple Avenue, fell through.
Patrick Seidensticker, a representative of Orange Pineapple LLC, testified that the building still retains its “historic fabric” but can be memorialized and remembered differently. However, the structure doesn’t fit into the developer’s design plans and needs to be moved or demolished.
He said the building would be difficult and too costly to move, for various reasons. And Seidensticker said multiple parties said the structure did not suit their needs.
The McAlpin House sits on the south side of Cross Street, towards the middle of the block.
He said permission to demolish the structure is requested, but “we’re not going to knock the thing down tomorrow, if you say we can today. We will continue to look for someone who wants this historic structure, and provide funds so that they can receive it.”
City Planner Clifford Smith testified that he believes the structure should be saved.
Clifford Smith: It may be a challenge to find a location, but you can find a location and it can in fact be moved. It’s worth saving. Staff has not changed its recommendation, and I’ve recommended to the city commission to deny this application for demolition, as we have good and substantial evidence that this property, this house, can in fact be moved and saved.
RL: Erin DeFazio, program director for the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation, took a big-picture view.
Erin DeFazio: I would like to remind you that you owe the developer nothing, but you owe the citizens of this city the duty to protect their heritage, their story, their quality of life. I would like to suggest that there is absolutely no need for this building to come down. As we all know, these things take time, plans go back and forth for months or years, before any evidence of construction will begin. There is plenty of time for them to consider how they might locate this structure on-site, to … incorporate the old with the new, to create something of value to the people who call Sarasota home.
RL: Activist Kelly Franklin joined the call to save the historic building.
Kelly Franklin: Please send a clear message that Sarasota’s city heritage, its streets and its neighborhoods, are not for sale.
RL: Mayor Battie was not forthcoming with his “very interesting” idea to save the McAlpin, saving that disclosure for the next public commission debate on the fate of the building. That will take place at the second meeting in March 2024, or possibly sooner.
This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.
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