A local investment group with ties to PGA golfer Greg Norman acquired the Main Plaza/Hollywood 20 complex in downtown Sarasota for $18.1 million, with an aim of reviving the aging office and retail center.
The group, comprising of entrepreneurs Jesse Biter, Eric Baird and David Chessler, say they have no set plans for the property. The deal closed Thursday.
The 8.6-acre site, anchored by Regal Cinema’s Hollywood 20 theater, a YMCA branch, Ker’s Wing House and others, had been owned since 2005 by Connecticut-based Paragon Realty Group LLC. Paragon paid $40 million for the 1991 Main St. property.
“That side of Main Street has really struggled,” Chessler says, in an interview with the Business Observer. “We want to do something special there. We want it to be magnificent for the community.”
Chessler is the founder of GPS Industries in Sarasota, a company that installs global positioning software in golf carts. Chessler, no longer active in day-to-day operations at GPS, is also the managing director and chief investment officer of the Great White Shark Opportunity Fund. The fund is a $75 million enterprise overseen by Norman, an Australian whose nickname is “The Shark.”
It could not be determined whether Norman or his fund would have capital invested in Main Plaza.
Redeveloping Main Plaza could be a daunting task. In addition to a lack of new development around it, Main Plaza has lost tenants of late and the 30-year-old complex has shown signs of age.
The sale of the 254,000-square-foot complex also comes just months before Regal’s lease in the complex is set to expire. Speculation has arisen that with the pending opening of a CineBistro theater in the Southgate Mall, Regal may want to either significantly downsize or leave the market altogether.
Exhibitors like Regal and AMC have been facing intense competition from upscale, boutique theaters like CineBistro, iPick, Silverspot and others that serve food and alcoholic beverages along with movies.
“There is a lot of risk involved in a property this old,” says Biter, a software entrepreneur and area property owner who has run several businesses. “But with any risk comes great opportunity. I like to buy things that are not traditional and require creativity. It’s a great property in the heart of downtown.”
Previously, Biter has acquired the four-story HuB office building on Fruitville Road, together with retail space on Main Street and Palm Avenue in downtown Sarasota.
Baird, meanwhile, founded myus.com in 1997 in a 700-square-foot space in a local strip mall. By 2013, the company, which provides post office boxes to Americans living overseas, had grown to $65 million in sales. He eventually sold his stake in the company to a private equity firm. In 2009, Baird was named the Business Observer’s “Entrepreneur of the Year.”
The trio has set up a website, www.bbcmain.com, to gather recommendations for Main Plaza’s future.
Patrick Berman of the Tampa office of brokerage firm Cushman & Wakefield represented Paragon in the transaction. Ian Black Real Estate’s Steve Horn and Ian Black represented the buyers.
“The exciting thing to me is not just the residential development potential there, but that there’s a large chunk of office space,” Horn says. “Downtown Sarasota has lost tenants in recent years for a lack of office space. The interesting thing to me is this could be a big net to keep larger office users in downtown, or provide a spot to attract larger office tenants who want to be in a downtown setting.”
Main Plaza opened at the site of a former Maas Bros. department store in 1985 to considerable acclaim, but its lack of street visibility hurt merchants and office users alike.
In the 1990s, a development team of Dr. Mark Kauffman and attorney David Band revitalized the center and installed the Hollywood 20 movie theater.