As Sarasota leaders work to recruit and grow businesses in the region, filling offices downtown could lead to a boost in commercial activity, too.
Downtown Sarasota has seen a boom in residential development during the past two years, and a vacant spot on Main Street rarely stays empty for too long.
Still, there’s one market that’s not going through a period of pronounced growth downtown: office space. Filling offices in the commercial core might not seem too sexy, but it’s a major area of emphasis for Downtown Economic Development Coordinator Norm Gollub.
He believes that it should be a topic of interest for all downtown stakeholders, for new office tenants can have a profound impact on surrounding businesses.
“Those employees — they go out to eat at lunchtime, they go out after work for dinner and drinks,” Gollub said. “Having a daytime population is vitally important for business downtown.”
He points to the work of Robert Gibbs, a retail consultant the city has hired multiple times, as evidence downtown workers tend to spend money around the area in which they are employed.
That’s why the lack of change in the downtown office vacancy rate — it has hovered around 13% for the past two years — is a source of consternation for Gollub.
There’s at least one recent positive development. On April 18, the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County announced the Cincinnati-based freight-brokerage company Total Quality Logistics would be moving downtown in June.
Although the firm will move into the BB&T building on Second Street with just 10 employees, TQL has made a serious commitment to growth. The announcement says the firm will create 100 new jobs by 2020.
Companies generally don’t relocate completely unprompted. The EDC worked with Sarasota County, Enterprise Florida and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to facilitate TQL’s move, offering incentives to the employer in exchange for hitting certain growth marks.
Companies are more likely to come to Sarasota if a representative is independently familiar with the area, according to EDC President and CEO Mark Huey.
“They may be a second homeowner, or they may have been a serial vacationer in our area or they happen to own another business in this part of the United States,” Huey said.
“Having a daytime population is vitally important for business downtown.” — Norm Gollub
The EDC represents the entire county, so Huey says he’s as happy if a business moves to North Port as he is if it moves to downtown Sarasota. The city of Sarasota itself doesn’t offer incentives for relocating businesses, so Gollub is reliant on groups like the EDC selling the region as a whole.
“It’s not so much luring people into the downtown area as it is luring people into Sarasota County,” Gollub said. “A rising tide lifts all boats.”