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304-room resort approved to replace Lido’s historic Helmsley Sandcastle

MELISSA REID
Associate Publisher
mreid@lbknews.com

The Sandcastle Resort on Lido Key will soon get a new look.

The resort, built in 1953 and now owned by Ocean Properties, will be demolished and a new resort will be constructed in the next few years.

The City of Sarasota Commission last week unanimously approved the site plan and zoning change necessary to allow the new hotel project to move forward at its regular City Commission meeting.

The Sandcastle is currently zoned as Residential Multiple Family-4 (RMF-4) and is being changed to Waterfront Resort (WFR), which will enable the property to have a restaurant and ballroom. The restaurant and ballroom additions to the property are Major Conditional Use changes that also required a vote by the commission, and were approved 5-0. The project is not seeking any variances from the city code.

The new hotel will have 304 rooms instead of its current 174 rooms, a restaurant, a pool, a ballroom and parking on the two floors underneath the building. The ballroom will be a 22,000 square foot room that can be used for charity functions, weddings, meetings, etc. The two-level parking garage will house 601 parking spaces designed for hotel guests and visitors to the restaurant and ballroom. The restaurant and ballroom will be open to the public for dining and events.

City Commissioners were most concerned at the meeting with the issue of parking for events and the possibility of traffic spilling onto Benjamin Franklin Drive causing traffic jams, as well as enough parking for hotel guests and visitors.

“I was concerned there would be enough parking for staff, guests and visitors. Especially with all the amenities that you will be bringing,” said Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie.

Commissioner Hagen Brody also said traffic and parking was a concern for him.

“In the concurrency plan, the traffic plan; I think this is going to be a popular place. Parking is limited in that area of Sarasota. The Hyatt, for example, has a huge ballroom and they have parking issues. What happens when 500-600 people come to an event? Cars will be backing up on Ben Franklin Drive before and after the events and there is no street parking on that portion of Ben Franklin Drive” said Brody.

Planning and Building City staff assured the commissioners that the plan for the  new Sandcastle Beach Resort meets all the code requirements, including the parking. According to city staff, the city code requires 584 parking spaces for the hotel guests, staff, and restaurant and event attendees, and the property owner is building 601, which exceeds the requirement for the code.

Brody was still concerned about the traffic and questioned city staff further about the fact that the traffic would spill out onto the road and there would be no dedicated turn lane to accommodate it.

“So the traffic was not broken out in the traffic study? I find that odd. It’s going from 174 rooms to 304 rooms with a restaurant and ballroom. These ballrooms are used for functions and they’re not hotel guests. Are you not concerned?” asked Brody.

City staff said that they have never seen any traffic concurrency that had broken down parking spaces into hotel guests, ballroom, and staff, but that they could look into doing it if the commission wanted. City staff also said that the traffic backing up onto the road will not be an issue, partially because the hotel will be making mandatory valet parking. Staff indicated that the neighboring property owners to the hotel liked the aspect of valet parking as it speeds up the check in process for guests and prevents drivers from wandering through parking areas searching for an open space.

City Attorney Robert Fournier said that the traffic backing up onto Ben Franklin Drive will depend on how the valet situation is handled.

Owner of Lido Sand LLC, Mark Walsh was present at the meeting and addressed the commission regarding the parking and traffic spilling into the street issue.

“There will be times when you will be having everyone trying to come at the same time. You can have a wedding on a weekend, you simply have to be staffed and it has to be managed properly; but that’s our issue,” said Walsh.

Brody said, “I am going to support it, but I just want that concern noted. I think this is going to be a great addition.”

Mayor Liz Alpert agreed, “I’m also supporting the project. I think they are going to be a very popular destination.”

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