The new owners of Sarasota Main Plaza expect to have their redevelopment plans set by early next year.
An investment group composed of local entrepreneurs Eric Baird, Jesse Biter and David Chessler paid $18.1 million Thursday for the downtown Sarasota complex, which includes the Hollywood 20 movie theater.
Chessler said Friday that the group, called BBC Main Street, will gather ideas over the next three to four months and present a proposal by the end of the first quarter.
“We really don’t have a master plan or anything,” Chessler said. “We have a clean sheet of paper, is the way we look at it right now. We will build whatever is the highest and best use, something that everyone in our community will enjoy.”
Chessler said razing the entire plaza and building new is an option, “but not very likely.”
“There are some valuable assets in there,” he said. “The parking lot costs money to build, and the current tenants are in there.”
The 8.5-acre site, 1991 Main St., is zoned for a variety of commercial or residential uses that could include a 10-story condominium tower, a hotel or other retail and office spaces.
“It’s a tremendous redevelopment opportunity,” said downtown commercial broker John Harshman. “However, it’s also a very complicated redevelopment opportunity. It’s going to take some serious redevelopment experience to develop it.”
The 20-screen Regal Cinemas theater, which holds a lease through May 2017, may remain at Main Plaza, but likely in a scaled-down version that reflects how consumers now use DVD and streaming services to watch movies at home.
The plaza will probably be renamed, but Chessler said that will come with the redevelopment.
The buyers paid less than half of the $40 million that seller Paragon Realty Group spent for it in 2005.
“They didn’t buy it, they stole it,” said Stan Rustein, a commercial broker with Re/Max Alliance Group. “But Paragon shouldn’t have paid $40 million for it.”
The two-story Main Plaza was up for sale for more than a year — one potential deal fell through in the summer — and Chessler said his group became interested two months ago.
Chessler founded GPS Industries, a local company that outfits golf carts with global positioning software. He is now chief investment officer and partner with famed PGA golfer Greg Norman in the Great White Shark Opportunity Fund, an asset-based debt lender to small- and middle-market businesses.
That fund did not buy into the plaza, Chessler said, but it may provide capital for the redevelopment. It will move its headquarters into Main Plaza after it is redeveloped.
“Our group has got the capital to deploy to build whatever we decide we want to build,” he said.
Baird, who built a shipping and logistics company in Sarasota, now owns an investment fund called Baird Inc. here.
Biter is a software developer who has jumped into several downtown developments, most recently the new Evie’s Tavern and Grill. Biter Enterprises will move later to Main Plaza as well, Chessler said.
“That side of Main Street has really struggled,” said Chessler, who had an office in Main Plaza a dozen years ago. “The plaza certainly needs a fresh look and new concepts in there, but it has a lot of potential.”
Rutstein said in-town malls like Main Plaza have failed throughout the country, but the Sarasota property boasts an enviable location.
“If they open up the front, re-position it as storefronts, take the interior and put a tower on it or another use,” he said. “The building today looks like a military fort. People don’t know how to get into it.”
The 253,000-square-foot plaza was built in 1985 but has struggled to retain tenants. Applebee’s restaurant was the latest departure in late September. Listing broker Cushman & Wakefield stated the center was 61 percent occupied.
A partnership headed by Sarasota attorney David Band acquired it in 1996 and revitalized the property by adding the movie complex on the site of a former Maas Brothers store. It includes a five-story parking garage with 850 spaces.