The new owners of Sarasota Main Plaza plan to redevelop the downtown center in phases, starting with adding retail tenants and redesigning the Main Street entrance.
The three investors — who bought the office-retail-cinema complex last month for $18.1 million — also put out a call Monday for architects to submit proposals for the initial phase of work.
The group hopes to select an architect and builder in the next 90 days and begin the first steps in revitalizing the 30-year-old mall.
An immediate goal is to create more inviting entrances to Main Plaza, which one local real estate agent recently compared to a military fort.
“When people walk down Main Street, they can’t even tell there is a mall there,” said David Chessler, one of the new owners.
The owners also want to add 15,000 to 20,000 square feet of fresh retail on the first floor along Main to entice more shoppers to the mall, which has struggled to retain tenants and recently lost Applebee’s restaurant.
The gym facade in the YMCA’s current space also will be improved.
“The YMCA is very interested in negotiating a new lease,” Chessler said. “They have indicated they want to stay.”
The second phase will involve rehabilitating the Hollywood 20 movie theater, which opened in 1997 and, some have speculated, may be downsized.
Chessler said it was “premature” to discuss specifics for the 20-screen Regal Cinemas theater, but work should begin in 2016. The theater has a lease through May 2017.
“We’re certainly in talks with Regal about working out a new facility for them,” he said. “It’s still a little bit early in the conversation.”
The third phase will undertake how to develop the surface parking lot area at the north end of the property that borders Fruitville Road. A larger structure there could include “multifamily, conference, hotel,” the group said.
The 8.5-acre site is zoned for a variety of commercial and residential uses that could include a 10-story condo tower or a hotel.
But the hotel market is getting crowded. Two groups recently submitted proposals to Sarasota County to build a hotel on the parking lot across U.S. 301 directly east of Main Plaza, which would join the five hotel projects planned or under way in downtown that would bring more than 900 new rooms.
The BBC Plaza ownership — which includes local entrepreneurs Jesse Biter and Eric Baird — plan to meet with interested architects on Dec. 22. Chessler said they intend to select one by the end of January — and that could be a designer just for phase one, or a master planner for the entire redevelopment. They noted that their proposed phases are “subject to change.”
“The ownership of BBC Plaza is confident that a successful project will bring life back to the east end of Main Street,” the owners said in a statement. “As an anchor to Main Street, this property deserves to have a modern look, improved retail storefronts, improved mall entrances and an updated and improved interior.”