This artist’s rendering is of a sample business/residential structure proposed in a renovation project for Pine Avenue in Anna Maria. The drawing was done by local architect Gene Aubry and would be built at the corner of Crescent and Pine.
By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer
ANNA MARIA – City fathers (and mothers) have long envisioned Pine Avenue as a signature corridor for Anna Maria. In the comprehensive plan, the street is classified as residential/office/retail (ROR.) But it goes back further than that, according to resident Michael Coleman, who has a vision for how to make that mix of uses a reality.
That vision includes a sweeping proposal to use as many as 24 lots to build two-story, Florida cracker-style structures housing small businesses on the ground floor and residences above.
To that end, Coleman already has quietly signed contracts to purchase 21 of those lots and is negotiating to buy three more.
Coleman outlined his plan to city commissioners July 12 at a work session. In the audience were a number of local business leaders, including Sandbar restaurant owner Ed Chiles, who confirmed that he is an investor in the project. Chiles, in fact, suggested that one of the locations - on North Bay Boulevard across from Bayview Plaza - would be a perfect spot for a new restaurant.
Coleman told commissioners he wants the business/residential buildings to fit in with the architecture of the area, such as Roser and Mango cottages, which provide historical perspective. He vowed to keep the bulk of the structures small and not to put up “three-story row houses” that would dominate the surrounding buildings. He presented drawings by renowned local architect Gene Aubry of two sample buildings.
"We now find ourselves in a paradox in which that which is most desirable (mixed use, small business/residential) is most difficult to achieve and that that which is least desired - three-story row houses lining Pine Avenue and wiping out what precious little commercial opportunity we have - is the simplest to achieve,” he said.
"In 1911, when the city pier was built, people would land on the pier and promenade down Pine Avenue," Coleman said. "That’s the vision we all have for Pine Avenue."
The fact that Coleman was able to quietly tie up 21 lots along Pine Avenue without creating a stir in the community was, in itself, something of a feat. He said one reason he was able to do it was because of the falling real estate market.
"Change is coming to Pine Avenue, and we can either take an opportunity like this or let it happen piecemeal like it is now, which is something that is pretty daunting" he said. "All these lots became available together because property values have been going down, down and down."
"The current lull in property values is drawing new capital to the Island, which can be both beneficial and a cause for concern, since the changes may or may not reflect the culture and character of our unique Island community," he said.
Coleman told commissioners he wants the Pine Avenue restoration project to proceed with openness and community input, and he will only go forward if there is broad-based support for his vision.
"I do not see this as an adversarial process," he said. "I don’t want to be involved in an adversarial process. I’m going to go away and go swimming and go to the beach if this becomes adversarial."
The reception from commissioners and from residents in the audience was warm and encouraging.
"I think it’s a great idea," said Commission Chair John Quam. "My only concern is about parking. If you look at Bradenton Beach, they had a similar project and now they have a parking problem. We want to be careful to avoid that."
Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick was enthusiastic about the potential for the city.
"This is a unique opportunity for the city that may never come again," she said. "It’s perfect timing – like all the constellations have lined up right, It’s perfect with the grant we have coming in 2010 to beautify the city."
Coleman said his next step is to continue putting together a group of investors. Chiles said anyone interested in investment opportunities in the project can call him at the Sandbar at 778-8700.