A Golden Opportunity

For three decades beginning in 1926, Golden Gate Point was little more than a launch site for the original John Ringling Causeway Bridge.

In 1967, a single-family home, its furnishings and an acre of surrounding land sold for a total of $9,000.

Through a combination of nondescript apartment complexes and modest single-family homes, the point remained a largely undiscovered, waterfront enclave.

For the past five years, the point has been one of the hottest slices of property in all of Southwest Florida.

Since 2000, more than $150 million in condominium projects have either been completed or are under construction on the 22-acre point between downtown Sarasota and the fixed-span Ringling bridge.

Developers and buyers alike attribute the point’s popularity to its bayfront view and proximity to city amenities.

“People feel Golden Gate Point is an island,” said Lynn Robbins, a Coldwell Banker Real Estate Services agent who markets point units and owns one herself. “It’s in a downtown but away from the noise and the traffic. and it has a beautiful view of the water.”

“What makes it just as attractive, I think, is that for years people didn’t know where it was,” Robbins added.

“I saw it as an overlooked oasis,” said Angus Rogers, partner and founder of Floridays Development Co., which is building the $30 million, 13-unit Grande Riviera condominium project at 420 Golden Gate Point. “It’s a unique little spot.”

Developer interest in Golden Gate Point has largely been fueled by low interest rates, relatively inexpensive land costs and city-imposed limits on density.

Within the point, developers are limited to building 25 units per acre and restrictions that cap building heights at nine floors.

Most new projects, like the seven story, 13 unit Phoenix that sparked the wave of redevelopment in 2000, average just a dozen units.

For buyers, the point offers a prime location and a bevy of modern, luxury amenities that include security systems, wine cellars, media rooms, fireplaces, fitness centers, terrace summer kitchens, heated pools, and marble and granite countertops, floors and bathrooms.

Many are transplants from other upscale Sarasota enclaves such as Siesta Key or St. Armands, realtors and residents said.

Like other upscale, waterfront vistas in Sarasota, residences in Golden Gate Point make the $216,900 median cost of a home in Sarasota County look like pocket change.

At La Bellasara, a 29-unit complex slated for completion next summer at 464 Golden Gate Point, units range from $1.55 million to $2.25 million.

At the 16-unit Vista Bay Point, at 128 Golden Gate Point, units sold from $870,000 to $1.25 million and above.

The Golden Bay Condominiums sold from $899,000 to $1.8 million, while the Majestic Bay complex’s 10 condos at 258 Golden Gate Point fetched $950,000 to $2 million.

Perhaps the most expensive condos on the peninsula are at Grange Riviera, where prices ranged from $2.9 million to $3.7 million. Construction there will be completed by the end of the year, Rogers said.

Despite the prices, most of the new units have been sold. At Grande Riviera, only one unit remains available, Rogers said.

The same is true at Golden Bay, where a single penthouse — at $1.8 million — remains unsold, Robbins said.

At least part of the point’s recent popularity can be traced to the introduction of the nearby Ritz-Carlton Hotel and condominium towers.

The $200 million dollar complex, within walking distance to Golden Gate Point, was completed in November 2001 by Wichita developers Robert and Daniel Buford.

“The Ritz really woke people up to Golden Gate Point,” said Brent Parker, whose Parker Walter Group designed the Phoenix and Vista Bay Point.

Even real estate insiders say they’ve been surprised by the pace of development at Golden Gate.

Michael Saunders”I’ve been surprised by the scale of development and how quickly it happened,” said Michael Saunders, whose Michael Saunders & Co. real estate brokerage has handled sales at most of the new Golden Gate projects.

“It very quickly went from a sleepy, mostly two-story community to a place where developers attempted to maximize the density of available land,” Saunders added.

But not everyone is thrilled by the development and the construction din that accompanies it.

“There’ve been problems, like when they’ve lined up 90 concrete trucks at a time and blocked roads,” said Bob Johnson, a Sarasota attorney and chair of the Sarasota Fairground’s development committee.

“No one seems to care,” said Bob Johnson, who has lived in the Bay Point apartments at 350 Golden Gate Point, for the past four years. “It’s like the city has said’ let’s turn our backs on this until it’s finished.'”

Johnson added Golden Gate residents also have decreased parking and numerous residents have suffered flat tires and other damage to their cars because of the construction.

Despite the growing pains and the bevy of new projects, more development is slated for Golden Gate Point.

Parker is said he is designing a 15-unit condominium building that will be called Le Reve.

He is also working on rehabilitating Harbor View, a 16 unit complex from the 1960’s that contains dated green handrails and fluorescent lights. Ungraded units there are scheduled to sell for an average of $700,000, Parker Said.

Meanwhile, the design for the 16-unit Casa De Mayo has recently been completed, said architect Michael Carlson. Construction is expected at 263-283 Golden Gate Point later this year,

And at 982 Golden Gate Point, Phoenix developer Jim Bridges plans to build a 14-unit project called Grand Point.

While much of Golden Gate’s development has been along its perimeter, where new buildings have water views, Grand Point may usher in a new wave of development in the point’s interior.

“I’d be surprised if it doesn’t happen,” Rogers, developer of the Grande Riviera, said.

“There aren’t too many pieces of property left to redevelop at this point,” agreed Parker, who is also head of the point’s neighborhood association. “We’re almost over-exposed.”

In addition to the new projects, Golden Gate residents are likely to see infrastructure improvements within the next two years as well.

Parker said the neighborhood association has collected about 150 signatures from residents who support the city creation of a special taxing to pay for its improvements.

By mid-2005, the city will spend over $2 million to bury power lines, narrow streets, add sidewalks and improve landscaping. Golden Gate Point residents will pay assessments along with their tax bills for the next 20 years to retire the infrastructure bill.

“It’ll really change the character out here,” Parker said, adding he expects property values to jump 10 to 15 percent as a result of the improvements.

“They really have the best of both worlds,” Saunders said of Golden Gate Point’s location. “Maybe it was inevitable what’s happened there. It’s a very desirable piece of real estate.”