Rebirth of Whitney Beach Plaza
Editor & Publisher
For Whitney Beach Plaza owner Richard Juliani, the end of a long journey repairing, renovating and creating a positive perception of the four-acre commercial plaza on Longboat Key’s north end is near.
Over the past months, a complete exterior renovation has transformed the 35,000-square-foot structure into viable space that is not only attracting interest, but also bringing tangible leases and commitments.
Longboat Key News spent an afternoon touring the property with Juliani and leasing agents Nick DeVito and Debbie Anglin of Ian Black Real Estate.
On that Thursday afternoon, crews were paving the entire parking lot, striping lines and installing speed bumps. And for those who know Juliani, his hands-on energy made him keep an eye on all the processes and activity as he spoke at length of what he has accomplished and what lies ahead.
The past few months has brought all new air conditioners to the roofs. Complete insulation and a new metal roofing system, the stuccoing of the exterior and painting in a unified color. The friendly Juliani will interject: “Do you like the color? We debated and some wanted overly bright pastels, but we went for a classy look.”
The columns have been redone, the ceilings repaired and replaced and the lighting converted from exterior fluorescents to LED lighting.
Juliani said he always has had inquiries about the property, but the inquires started coming to his door and telephone once renovation commenced. Juliani says the fundamental demographics work. He maintains that the location can not only serve needs of residents, but stop the traffic that whizzes by on Gulf of Mexico Drive commuting from Anna Maria to Sarasota and St. Armands.
Engel & Volkers takes space
And the efforts of Juliani are paying off. This week, Engel & Volkers Longboat Key Realty announced its plans to open their new north Longboat Key office in the newly renovated Whitney Plaza by no later than August of this year. Subsequent to E&V’s acquisition of Wedebrock Real Estate in late 2009, Engel & Volkers occupied the former Wedebrock office located in north Longboat Key, then vacated it in late 2010. Since that time, Engel & Volkers has been working out of their south Longboat Key office in Mediterranean Plaza located just outside the gates of Longboat Key Club.
“We’ve been focused on finding the right location in north Longboat Key that best captures our formula driven ‘shop’ concept,” notes Ray Alexander, Broker/Owner. “The Engel & Volkers shop design is the lynchpin to our brand. It’s crucial that we scouted and selected the best possible location to ensure our formula driven shop design works best for us and we believe the newly renovated Whitney Plaza fits our profile,” Alexander states. “Our ‘shop’ locations are typically in retail areas that augment our concierge/lifestyle approach to helping our clients, and our waterfront oriented space within Whitney Plaza suits us well.” Alexander said.
And Engel & Volkers is no small player with nearly 600 shops in 37 countries.
The Bayou Tavern, an established existing restaurant, not only has seen expanding business, but is further enhancing its operation by modifying a roofing structure that blocked the enjoyment and view of arguably the property’s greatest asset — Bishops Bayou that kayakers, small boats and manatees share. That asset is not lost on Juliani who plans to utilize the water access, views and proximity as spaces lease.
Juliani and the realtors are now talking and working to secure an anchor tenant for the main building — the home of the former Market run by Andrew Hylwa and Dawn DiLorenzo.
Juliani spoke of the high-end finishes and quality of build-out in that 10,000 square-foot space that render it a turnkey situation.
Another desire — and Juliani says he is talking with four interested parties — is to secure a breakfast and lunch operator for the former space leased and operated as Isabelle’s in year’s past.
Juliani said Design 2000 hair stylists will remain as will a dry cleaner that is currently in place.
The old Tiny’s Bar and lounge will be occupied by Sam’s Sports Bar said Juliani and he added that he is a partner in that operation. It will occupy 3,500 to 4,000 square feet.
Juliani said the Town has not been an impediment and in fact has been very helpful in all that he has accomplished.
From a business model, Juliani said the property must be about 70% leased up to cross the threshold into profitability.
Part of what makes the undertaking viable is his partnership with the original lender, Frontier Capital, which has allowed him to focus on investing and improving the property.
Juliani came to the area when the economy tanked looking for an investment. He subsequently bought the property from the bank and then later partnered with the bank under the name, Whitney Plaza, LLC as the owner.
As for the leasing market, DeVito said over the past 18 months the market has strengthened noticeably. DeVito said a main attraction is 90% of the plaza is visible to drivers on Gulf of Mexico Drive. Juliani did say he will soon replace the Shops are Open sign with something that supports the tenants and is more tasteful.
One of the main positives is the support and encouragement Juliani has received from neighbors in the community.
When not in Florida, Juliani is home in Wellesley, MA. where he lives with his wife, Erin. He spends two weeks here and two there. Part of the renovation and restoration blood comes from the fact that he lives in Massachusetts in the house his great grandfather built.
Juliani is looking with eagerness toward the next busy season. He said it would be the first time in many years that Longboaters will see a plaza with vitality emerging. He said he plans on staying and not merely leasing up and selling.
For Vice Mayor Dave Brenner, it said it is nice to see the owner do exactly what he set out to do and spend some money and energy in repairs and updating.
Now, it is up to the leasing agents and the forces of the market to complete the next chapter.
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