By Phil Colpas
With the County Commission granting two special exceptions for height and density, it looks like all systems go for the proposed seven-story, 120-room, mid-century modern, Sarasota School of Architecture-designed hotel on Old Stickney Point Road, and a nearby five-story parking garage on Stickney Point Road.
The developer of the project is Gary Kompothecras, who has called Sarasota home for 40 years. Better known as “Dr. Gary,” he is the founder of the 1-800-ASK-GARY legal service, and owner of the nearby Crescent Club, the Hibiscus Inn and Suites on Old Stickney Point Road and the Captiva Beach Resort on Siesta Key. He also pitched the idea and served as executive producer of MTV’s “reality series,” Siesta Key, and lives with his family in one of the island’s most storied mansions he had built near Point of Rocks Beach.
“A lot of misinformation (about the hotel project) has been spread around,” Kompothecras told Siesta Sand via phone Nov. 15. “I could’ve put the worst bar in the world there (without having to apply for any special exceptions) and made a lot more money. But I didn’t want to do that to my town. My goal is to make a beautiful south bridge district.”
For several years, Kompothecras served on the Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority, and got a good understanding of air traffic flow through Sarasota. The off-season months are when Europeans often prefer to come here, and there are now direct flights from Sarasota to London’s Heathrow Airport.
“We have a shoulder season to get through in August, September and October,” he said. “That’s the purpose of this hotel.
“If we can capitalize on this by providing excellent accommodations on Siesta Key, businesses will be able to have a slow month or two instead of five.”
Bob Spencer, vice-chair, Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority, said the airport has experienced phenomenal growth over the past year. “SRQ is arguably the fastest- growing airport in the world, with passenger seats up 162% over pre-pandemic levels.”
It now has 11 airlines and 52 non-stop destinations. The airport is on track to fly more than 4 million passengers in and out of SRQ in 2022, he said.
“While we understand that traffic can be a concern, this influx of visitors will likely be driving to the beach regardless of where the lodging is located,” Spenser told the County Commission Nov. 2. “You have a difficult job as the concerns of the residents must be weighed along with the needs of the greater community to handle the growth and demands that are inevitable, as the Sarasota-Bradenton area is no longer our little secret.”
Kompothecras said he started the planning process for the proposed hotel five years ago in 2016, spending “a tremendous amount of money,” engaging in public hearings, and trying to address neighborhood concerns as best he could, resulting in several improvements. These included an increased setback variance and buffer zone around a standalone building, primary access of which will be from Old Stickney Point Road and not off of residential Peacock Road.
Throughout the development process, proponents argued that a 120-room, luxury hotel would create less traffic than some other uses already approved for that “very underutilized property.” They also stated they believe that the hotel fits in nicely with the neighborhood’s existing structures, such as the Anchorage, at 97 feet in height, and Crystal Sands, at 113 feet.
And while an architectural element on the proposed hotel building does reach a height of 83 feet, the bulk of the tiered building tops out at 73 feet.
People at Marina Del Sol are complaining that their views will be destroyed, said Kompothecras, who describes it as “partially blocked. And when they built (Marina Del Sol in 2002), they blocked people’s view too,” he said.
Other improvements were added to the plan, as well. “It’s an opportunity for better stormwater treatment, transportation, crosswalk, parking and places to stay,” said Charlie Bailey, attorney for the developer.
In an effort to reduce the traffic problems on the key, Kompothecras started the Siesta Key Frog Hop, a free trolley service. He also plans to include 101 public parking spaces in the proposed hotel’s parking structure, which will help offset the effects of the hotel.
“Car traffic is worse now than it will be when the hotel is there,” Kompothecras said. “Now, it’s all people driving to the beach. The hotel people won’t leave as often.”
And the hotel will pay a lot more taxes than the much-maligned AirBnBs, he said. “Don’t blame the hotels. Siesta Key started as hotels and was bought out by condos.”
At the public hearing Nov. 2, longtime Siesta Key resident Bob Waechter told county commissioners that there were plenty of people who supported the project, even though the opponents have received the lion’s share of press coverage, he said. “Most of us here agree on the same thing: We want the Siesta Key that we found when we came here, whether it’s the lady who moved here a year ago and lives in Marina Del Sol, or myself who moved here in 1977. The key has really, really changed. And it’s going to continue to change. The only thing we can hope to do is to maybe control and mold that change a little bit.”
“If this hotel is not built, what else are you going to put on a dead-end street?” Waechter asked, adding that a bar would be much worse and create much more traffic. “This hotel is a godsend.”
Clayton Thompson, who owns Clayton’s Siesta Grille on Old Stickney Point Road, is an outspoken proponent of the plan.
“I fully support the proposal. I think that it will complement Siesta Key, it will complement the neighborhood. I think they’ve adequately addressed the parking requirements. As a matter of fact, we need parking in that neighborhood desperately,” he said.
Modern hotels on Siesta are needed to help offset the AirBnB problem, Thompson added.
“With a big resort-style bar or restaurant, you’re going to have 500 to 600 cars a day coming in and out of there. That I would consider a serious traffic problem. Do we need another bar/ restaurant? I don’t think so.”
And even as Kompothecras continues augmenting his current projects, he is looking forward to the future. “More things are planned,” he said. “Stay tuned!”