South synergy

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Purchase of Crescent Beach Grocery plaza by major investor in the Village could mean business boon for south-end district

By John Morton

Many entrepreneurs in Siesta Key’s south business district have for years hoped to see their area become the type of energetic, robust scene that’s synonymous with the island’s iconic Village on the north end.
A huge piece to that puzzle looks to be going into place as multi-property owner Chris Brown has purchased, for $7.3 million, the 14,248-square-foot, .75-acre plaza at 1211 Old Stickney Point Rd. that houses the Crescent Beach Grocery and two other businesses.

Chris Brown

“Properties on the Key don’t come up for sale very often,” Brown said of his decision to strike. “And it’s really hard to acquire anything commercial. So, when they do come up, you have to look really hard. After all, there’s only one Siesta.”
Brown’s history of investment in Siesta is unparalleled. The line-up of his ownership in the Village includes the Cottage, the Hub Baja Grill, My Village Bar (MVP), the Summer House, the Beach Club, Morton’s Market, and Village Hardware.
The Crescent Beach Grocery building is owned by Nancy Connelly, who in 2003 acquired the building. It was built by her father, George Connelly, who started the market in 1952 and later sold it in the 1970s.
On April 12, Connelly announced she was retiring and that her grocery store, which she ran with her husband, Bill Singleton, would be holding a going-out-of-business liquidation sale between April 14 and 20 that included fixtures and equipment.

Brown said he hoped to replace the grocery store with another one, even buying many of those fixtures and pieces of equipment, but he’s thus far received little interest.
One of the grocers he’s contacted are the Mortons, who operate the store in the building he owns in the Village. Others in the area have been approached by Brown, but nothing has materialized.
“It’s been tough,” he said. “First of all, there’s only 7,000 square feet in that store. And unless you know the dynamics of Siesta Key, people in that business tend to wonder why a grocery would work here. Their algorithms tell them to be on (U.S.) 41, where 50,000 cars come by per day.
“So, I’m looking at alternatives.”

Nancy Connelly and Bill Singleton of Crescent Beach Grocery. (file photo)

Other options
Still, the building does sit on one of the most high-profile lots on Siesta Key. It’s one of the first things you see as you arrive at Midnight Pass Road after coming over the south bridge.
“That’s one prime piece of property,” said Scott Dolan, owner of Big Water Fish Market.
Added Steve Cavanaugh, the outgoing president of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce and owner of the RE/MAX Tropical Sands business located on the top floor of the building, “The drive-by traffic here is extraordinary.”
While the site’s future is undetermined, what Brown said he’s not going to do is build condos or a hotel.
Nor will he be creating a tavern or night club.
“At this stage, between staffing issues and quality-of-life-issues, I’m staying away from that,” he said. “I can promise one thing, it will not be a night club, even though, technically, zoning allows for it. I want something compatable with the area and a night club does not fit.”
He’s also not tearing it down.
“The bones are good, much like all the buildings built in that era. What it is in need of, desperately, is a facelift,” Brown said.
A nice restaurant, for which Brown is known, is a possibility, he said.
Cavanaugh can understand why that may be a good decision.
“He’s done pretty well with everything else he’s owned like that,” Cavanaugh said.
Brown also said something in the realm of traditional retail is a consideration.
“I have been approached by several high-end restaurant groups and retail outfits,” he said. “We are in multiple discussions at this time.”

South Village taking shape
Regarding the sudden sale, Cavanaugh said Connelly off-and-on had also made it clear through word of mouth that it was for sale, but he said he always thought Connelly’s unofficial asking price was a bit “pie in the sky.”
“It did kind of come out of nowhere – Nancy never mentioned a word,” Cavanaugh said of the sale. “But like we all know all it takes is the right buyer.”
The building had been listed on LoopNet as recent as April 11, listing an assessed value of $2,910,500. The two-story building has 31 parking spaces and occupies 140 feet of Midnight Pass Road frontage.
And Cavanaugh sees in Brown the right buyer to help offer a big boost to an area that in many ways has played second fiddle to the Village.
“Chris is a good guy, and he’s done a lot for Siesta Key,” Cavanaugh said. “All of his establishments in the Village are top-notch.
“This helps bring (the south end) into the ‘now.’ In my talks with Chris, I know he plans to invest substantially to gentrify the property. It would sure be a nice focal point when you come over that bridge.”
Brown agrees.
“There’s room for more of what visitors and residents want. There’s a lot of synergy right now on the south end,” Brown said. “And one thing I didn’t know is that the overwhelming majority of the short-term rental zoning is down there. This is a great opportunity to fill another void.”
He even thinks the district could be comparable to the Village in terms of appeal and offerings as soon as a year from now.
“It’s almost there,” Brown said. “Just a couple more steps.”
Other recent moving parts in the south end include the outdoor seating created at Captain Curt’s, plans for more of the same at Crescent Plaza, an outdoor addition at the Crescent Club, the creation of an employee-only parking lot, the building of new high-end beachfront condos on Seaside Drive (see story on page 13), and the approval of a 120-room hotel toward the end of Old Stickney Point Road that includes a nearby five-story parking garage.
Gary Kompothecras is the owner of the Crescent Club and the forthcoming hotel.
“I am very happy that Chris Brown purchased the grocery store building. That area needs to be updated and improved for the whole neighborhood to enjoy,” Kompothecras said. “We share a common vision of Siesta Key as a gem to be developed into both a family vacation spot and a place to raise a family. It is truly a passion of ours.
“I welcome him and hope to develop the south-of-the-bridge district as a major vacation destination. Infrastructure and planning are a must, and I look forward to the future.”

The renters await their fate
So, what will become of the current tenants?
“We’re working on some long-term solutions,” said Brown, who added that both of the tenants he inherited –Tropical Sands and Coconuts — are welcome to stay.
John Cannon has leased the space for his Coconuts women’s fashion store there for 28 years, at the far-right side of the plaza.
“We’ve had conversations, but nothing has been settled,” Cannon said of his interaction with Brown since the sale. To be safe, he’s starting to look for other locations.
“We’re all getting our ‘plan B’ in place, if things don’t work out,” Cannon said.
Same goes for Cavanaugh, who has leased there since 2005.
“I was told I’d have four to six months to relocate, if that’s what’s needed,” Cavanaugh said. “It would be sad to have to set-up elsewhere. But with (Brown) paying that much, the result would likely be such a high number in rent that it wouldn’t be worth it.”
Meanwhile, Brown said he feels fortunate to be involved with another chapter in Siesta Key’s evolution.
“You know, the word ‘growth’ is open to interpretation. It’s inevitable, and I’ve learned to embrace it,” he said.
“I’m not a ‘If you build it, they will come’ guy. That’s not me. I’m not a developer.
“I’m all about smart growth. I reinvigorate, improve. I create something that fills a void.”
And, as someone who lived on the Key for many years, he’s a known commodity who appreciates his role.
“Many of the properties I’ve bought were generational, and that’s the case again with the grocery store,” Brown said. “I heard that Nancy even turned down a higher offer because she thought I’d be a better fit. She trusted me. I’m honored to have them pass the torch to me.”
Said Connelly of Brown, “He’s done great things with his properties in the Village and I’m certain he’ll do great things with my property.”

John Morton
Author: John Morton

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