The Burgeoning Rosemary District
Sarasota’s transformation is a point that gets driven home with any trip downtown these days. Between construction sites and cranes rising above the city like robotic storks delivering newborn apartments, condos and hotels, it’s hard to envision what the new Sarasota will be like. Nowhere is that more apparent than the Rosemary District with its reputation for being equal parts seedy and hip – a reputation that’s fast becoming all parts hip. evergreen
“It is in the process of shedding its reputation as the most unsafe area in town to one that is unique, authentic, hip, creative, artsy, foodie, and the best place to shop and live.” -Michael Bush
The area is steeped in history and has been a magnet for creative businesses that live up to its designation as the Sarasota Design District. Interest in the Rosemary District, with its prime, downtown-adjacent location, has yo-yoed over the years along with the rise and fall of the real estate market. Projects came along in fits and stalls, but no longer.
“The Rosemary District has a unique blend of history, architecture, quirkiness, pioneering spirit and commitment to respect the heritage of Overtown. It is in the process of shedding its reputation as the most unsafe area in town to one that is unique, authentic, hip, creative, artsy, foodie, and the best place to shop and live,” says Michael Bush, owner of Home Resource, a contemporary furniture showroom, and President of the Rosemary District Neighborhood Association. “We are creating the new downtown, the energetic center of Sarasota and the conduit that connects downtown to Newtown and cements us as one town.”
Well-to-do newcomers are flocking to snap up nearly 900 apartments and condos now under construction with many more coming off the drawing board. Originally named Overtown during the Florida real estate boom in the 1920s, the area began being settled by African-Americans in the 1890s. It was renamed the Rosemary District in 1994.
Spanning east to west from Orange Avenue to U.S. 41 and north to south from 10th Avenue to Fruitville Road, the area has embraced a diverse mix from tony condos, such as the Renaissance and the Alinari, restaurants, clubs, and unique boutiques to Sarasota Military Academy, Sarasota School of Arts and Sciences, and Fogartyville with its hippie/hipster vibe. It’s impossible not to mention the cutting edge art and exhibits Sam Alfstad of Alfstad& Contemporary has brought to his 5th Street location. And, of course, there’s a bevy of design-related businesses.
The Design District
“I believe that it is all about the destination and the gathering of like-minded people. After Seibert Architects, Home Resource was the next one into the neighborhood in 2003. Sarasota Home Collection came soon after us. Some designers moved into the area after that,” says Bush, who created the Sarasota Design District in 2014. “In time, because of the existing businesses, the lower rents and the fact that the Rosemary District was labeled a creative community before the recession, all contributed to the collection of design-related businesses.”
Those businesses include half a dozen architects including Seibert Architects, Del Vescovo Design Group, DSDG and Halflants and Pichette, almost an equal number of interior designers, along with contractors, cabinet and flooring companies, a structural engineer, Home Resource and other showrooms devoted to furniture, home entertainment and decorative accessories as well as recycled and restored furnishings such as Sarasota Architectural Salvage and Circus City Architectural Salvage.
New construction, much of it residential, is sprouting up everywhere. Citrus Square, a mixed-use development of 28 residential units and 8,700 square feet of commercial space on Orange Avenue, is currently building out a second phase. Other mixed-use developments include Rosemary Square with 39 apartments and 30,000 square feet of office and retail, and Urban Flats on Fruitville Road has 228 apartments and 3,700 square feet of retail. Furthermore, CitySide on Cocoanut Avenue is building out phase one with 228 apartments, and has a total of 489 apartments and 8,700 square feet of retail planned.
“The district has authenticity” – Steve Bradley
According to developer Steve Bradley, whose Risdon on 5th mixed-use project will be complete this summer, 70 percent of its 22 luxury residential and six commercial spaces are sold. Bradley has two additional projects planned for the Rosemary District; an expansion of Risdon on 5th and The Risdon, a building at 5th and Central Avenue currently being renovated for another 11 units. “The district has authenticity, and there is a vibrant group of people like me who are making it a destination,” he says. “We are more than buildings, we are a community.”
Risdon on 5th has attracted a mix of buyers representing 10 different nations, Bradley says, calling the Rosemary District a wonderful alternative to downtown. “I think it’s an incredibly exciting time to be developing and living in Sarasota, and in the Rosemary District in particular,” he says. “To be part of this revolution is exciting.” In the meantime, other residential projects underway are the Elan Rosemary Apartments with 286 units on Lemon Avenue and the Valencia at Rosemary Place with 30 townhomes on Cocoanut Avenue.
Also planned are the Sarasota Modern on the Boulevard of the Arts, an amenity-rich, resort-style hotel with about 80 rooms, and the Fruitville Hotel with 118 rooms. An 18-story luxury condominium on U.S. 41 with 51 units selling from $1.5 million to more than $5 million has been proposed.
“To a newcomer to town, I would say come into our district, get out of your car and feel the spirit. It is a spirit of excitement, activity, development, a confidence. We all know this is our time, and it is only getting better,” Bush says. “There is another wave of development after the ones that are already out of the ground, and the next wave is more exciting than the one you see. And beyond the second wave, the third wave is in formation.”
Despite all of this change, the spirit of the Rosemary District is alive and well in the charming indie market started by Ashley Rogers, owner of Canned Ham Vintage at 1435 7th Street, which is where the market is held every third Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The market features local artisans selling an array of items including clothes, beauty items, jewelry, food products, and Rogers’ vintage clothing, jewelry, art, and home goods. The atmosphere is seasoned with live music and food truck aromas. “I shop for myself, friends and family at the market because there you can meet all these great makers who may not necessarily have money for a shop,” she says.
So, no longer neglected, the now evergreen Rosemary District stands with downtown and St. Armands Circle as a destination area. Whether it’s shopping at retailers with unique product lines such as Home Resource, Sarasota Home Collection and Canned Ham Vintage, refueling at stalwarts like Station 400, Pomona Bistro or Lolita Tartine, strolling among the art at Alfstad& Contemporary or finding your jam at the Blue Rooster and Fogartyville, a visit to the evergreen Rosemary District is a lovely way to spend a day. Sue Cullen