Jesse Biter, 37-year-old tech entrepreneur and founder of the mega-successful Dealers United, has been grabbing headlines as a friend of innovators and downtown activist. Owner of the HuB, a business incubator with a high cool factor, he’s been buying up downtown property with the intention of developing affordable housing for young people; he’s also aggressively supported a pro-business commission and a ban on panhandling.
What are downtown Sarasota’s strengths?
“We have such world culture for food—seafood, sushi, pizza, Italian, Mexican, Greek. I love the unique stores up and down Main Street, the places to hang out, the atmosphere. It’s the perfect size—everything you need is right in one spot.”
“On Friday or Saturday night it’s exciting and vibrant. Any other day of the week, it’s just dead. If we can bring more quality people downtown, it’ll add to the vibrancy.”
How does that happen?
“You need to attract all different types. Right now our downtown is set up to attract wealthier people, who tend to be older. The cheapest condos you can buy downtown are in the $500,000 range. That doesn’t make sense for a young family or an entrepreneur just starting a business.”
You ran Rick Santorum’s campaign for Florida in 2012. Do politics get in the way of people working together?
“You see husbands and wives, one’s a Democrat and one’s a Republican. I’ve changed my point of view on a lot of things because I’ve had a conversation. That’s the healthiest thing for anyone.”
How do you hope downtown will change in the next few years?
“I see the merchants on Main Street becoming stronger as we work toward a more year-round economy—more of those Fridays and Saturdays happening on Wednesdays and longer into the summer.”