Hopeful hotelier shares his vision

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An exclusive Q&A with David Balot

The site of the former Wells Fargo bank, located at 5810 Midnight Pass Rd., is being eyed for a new hotel by David Balot. It’s the fourth Siesta Key hotel application submitted to Sarasota County within a year.

Siesta Sand asked him to share his history and plan.

Q: Can you tell us about your history in the hotel business?

A: Although I have owned and rented residential and commercial property for more than 20 years, I recently got into the transient rental accommodation business approximately four years ago.

Q: What made you decide to “go for it” in regard to the Wells Fargo property?

A: I was contacted by a local realtor friend who told me the Wells Fargo building was for sale. As a current Wells Fargo customer, with business interests that utilized that branch, along with being a part-time resident on Siesta Key, I knew the property well and always thought it had potential. 

So I called my brother, who is my partner in real estate and business, and we put in an offer. Unexpected to us, our offer was accepted, and we then both said, “Now what?”

Q: Are you in any way concerned that your proposal is the fourth from developers within a year and there has been some citizen pushback in play?

A: Let me start by stating, I am not a developer.  I consider myself more of a businessman and operator, and this proposed hotel with restaurant/bar will be the first in terms of commercial development for my brother and me. With that said, I have been reading and listening to a lot of the opposition regarding one of the proposed hotels on Siesta Key and to be honest, I tend to agree with a lot of the pushback. 

That is what made me think the former Wells Fargo site could provide an alternate hotel with adequate parking (and even some much-needed additional parking for beachgoers) while not running afoul to a lot of the pushback and concerns from the local residents.

Q: How is your proposal different from the other three hotel projects being proposed?

A: My boutique hotel proposal is different from the others as it’s designed to keep a limit on intensity for future Siesta Key redevelopment.  My project proposes 100 rooms on approximately 2.15 acres of property which is just under twice the current density. 

In addition, the proposed hotel will be built within the current allowable 35 foot above parking. However, we are asking for one level of parking above ground. In reality, because the first floor has to be 1 foot above flood, this equates to an approximate 7-foot increase in overall height.

Q: How do you think your project would have a positive impact to the quality of life and experience on Siesta Key?

A: Although Siesta Key has a tremendous amount of condominiums, townhouses and homes for rent, these properties often have a minimum stay of three or seven days. 

With that said, it is my opinion that the Key could benefit from one or two new hotels for those guests that want to stay under three days, for those who want the security of a hotel and for those that are looking for something newer, built to current code and more handicapped accessible, than Siesta Key currently has to offer. 

As such, yes, I do believe that the hotel, with a much-needed new restaurant that actually has enough parking for all of its patrons, would increase the quality of life and experience on Siesta Key.

 Q: What is the biggest obstacle you face in getting your proposed project done?

 A: Due to the purchase price of property on Siesta Key and the significantly increased cost to build in today’s world, the numbers simply do not work with keeping to the current density limits. 

My proposed hotel will not increase the current density by six or seven times, like one of the other proposed hotels, but will double the current density for new or redeveloped resorts/hotels or motels in Commercial General/Siesta Key Overlay District only. 

I understand a lot of the residents believe that there should be absolutely no increase in density for transient accommodations, especially unlimited density, and as such I am trying to reasonably mitigate the situation with my proposal.

In short, I am simply trying to propose the least amount of density increase needed to financially support the development and redevelopment for a lot of the outdated, smaller transient properties that were build in the ‘50s,  ‘60s and ‘70s that would be better torn down and rebuilt than fixed-up.

Q: Have you received positive feedback from any of the key stakeholders on Siesta Key?

A: Prior to the required neighborhood workshop, my intention is to have meetings and listen to concerns with leadership members of the Siesta Key Association, the Siesta Key Coalition, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, the neighboring properties at Gulf & Bay Club and Jamaica Royale, and a few key business leaders on Siesta Key. 

As of today (April 15) I have met and/or spoken at length with several members of the aforementioned groups (not all yet) and the feedback has neither been positive or negative.

Each person that I have spoken with seems to recognize that I am trying to propose a change that is not egregious.

I am trying to meet in person, without an attorney present, and openly discuss the pros and cons of my project with an attempt at reasonably mitigating the issues. 

The feedback that I can provide is that, in all of the meetings I have had so far, regardless if we ultimately have agreed to disagree, every person I have spoken with seems to be appreciative that I have reached out and provided transparency and honesty in our discussions. 

It has also been mutually beneficial to me as it has provided me with the opportunity to listen to their personal concerns and concerns of their neighbors, friends and members. In meeting this way first, I believe the neighborhood workshop will be much more productive, which we anticipate having prior to the end of May.

Q: Tell us more about the restaurant component and other amenities.

A: I am a local Sarasota resident, I am a past resident of Siesta Key, and currently a part-time resident of Siesta Key. There are many great restaurants on Siesta Key, however parking has always made it a difficult choice when deciding where to take my family of six, (four children and two adults) out to dinner. 

My intention is to have an affordable restaurant where locals can either belly up at the bar and have a beer with an appetizer or where families can meet their friends out for dinner, while never having to worry about finding a parking spot.

I would like to note that my intention is not to open a nightclub or 21-and-older bar, but a restaurant with alcohol served, like all of the other restaurants in Siesta Key and Sarasota. I do not expect noise to be a concern for the hotel guests and definitely not for the nearby residents as well.

John Morton
Author: John Morton

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