Archives February, 2008

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The Long View On Riverview

If the recent charrette on the proposed re-development of the School Avenue property across from Payne Park taught us nothing else, we learned that civil and productive dialogue on important issues of land use needn’t be preempted by paralyzing discord between warring self-interests. Building on the consensus that gelled throughout the three-day session, the developer can now shape the run-down property into one whose look, feel, scope and purpose will be a source of pride for everyone.

Next up on the community agenda is another issue whose final resolution has the potential of casting a long shadow over Sarasota’s burgeoning reputation as Florida’s cultural hub. It pits the city’s status as the birthplace of a significant architectural movement—The Sarasota School of Architecture—against the irreversible effects of an indiscriminant wrecking ball. In March, Sarasota’s Board of Education will once again weigh their option to demolish Riverview High School, one of the movement’s most iconic structures. Not to mention one of the most progressive school buildings of its day.

The news that Riverview is atop the endangered species list has reverberated far beyond the environs of Southwest Florida. The London Times reported on the school board’s possible decision to raze the structure and major architectural journals have spread the word of its pending demise.

It doesn’t take a giant leap to understand why so many well-intentioned people are in favor of scrapping the old Riverview once its brand new replacement—now under construction—makes its much needed debut. The 50-year-old school almost seems to sag beneath the crush of its present-day student body and the increasing weight of their academic demands. Much of the school’s original grid of innovative breezeways, courtyards and sunshades—designed to mitigate the effects of excessive heat and sun before the days of air conditioning—are in obvious disrepair or obscured by less inspired annexes and downright ugly portable classrooms.

With the involvement of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a charrette was held last March to ponder a fate more becoming of Riverview’s stature as an architectural jewel. Its original design is one of the most outstanding representations of the Sarasota School of Architecture, of which its designer—Paul Rudolph—is considered a founding father. Completed in 1958, Riverview turned out to be a major turning point in Rudolph’s distinguished career. In the fall of 1957 he was appointed Dean of the Department of Architecture at Yale University.

As a result of the Riverview Charrette, the Sarasota Architectural Foundation offered Sarasota’s Board of Education a highly palatable alternative to the school’s wholesale demolition. A proposal to restore the original Riverview and transform it into a community facility for music and the arts—known as the Riverview Music Quadrangle (RMQ)—has met the requirements of the board for possibly saving the historic building. Such an alternative would not only rescue a revered structure, but would build on Riverview’s reputation as one of Florida’s finest Music Demonstration Schools even as it adds another venue to Sarasota’s cultural landscape.

The Board of Education will meet soon to decide Riverview’s ultimate fate. If the demolition plan goes forth it will be sad irony when graduates of the new Riverview, who go on to study architecture in college, learn that their alma mater’s original structure—now a monument to a revered genre of American architecture—is nothing more than a picture in a textbook.

Please add your voice to ours in petitioning members of the board to vote in favor of saving this architecturally significant building in much the same way as the original Sarasota High School is being preserved. Both structures are classics and their renaissance as artistic venues will further enhance our city’s draw as Florida’s cultural capital.

Cordially,

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Where In The World Is Michael Saunders

The debate over whether home prices have stabilized in Southwest Florida has reached something of a confusing impasse, with as many experts saying they have as those who think they haven’t quite.

Regardless of whom hindsight eventually crowns the winner of this somewhat ludicrous debate—which accomplishes little more than stalling our recovery by injecting more uncertainty into many would-be buyers—competitively-priced properties at Michael Saunders & Company continue to sell at the average rate of $ 4.5 million each day.

Meanwhile some of the major beneficiaries of today’s value-laden real estate market are wasting no time on the sidelines waiting for the pundits to sort out whether now is the right time to buy, or not. These are today’s international buyers, many of them from Western Europe, who are recognizing some of the best buying opportunities to come out of Southwest Florida in many years. With a buyers’ market in full swing over here, and the dollar at unprecedented lows over there, they’re cueing up as never before to happily seize on opportunities that could just as easily slip away while the debate rages on. Whether a great deal today could get better by waiting is a moot issue if the home you want sells tomorrow to someone else. The time to buy, the pundits will eventually agree, is in the eye of the beholder.

At Michael Saunders & Company, we haven’t suddenly realized the importance of the international buyer. Our perfect little swath of coastline has long been favored by quality and culture-conscious Europeans and reaching out to them where they live has been an important benefit extended to our sellers for going on four decades now. Indeed no one has been a more dedicated or tireless ambassador of our enviable lifestyle than Michael Saunders, who at great effort and expense has pursued one international brokerage partnership after another since first opening her doors back in 1976. To continually satisfy the best interests of our customers, Michael Saunders & Company now claims exclusive relationships with several of the top consortiums of independent brokerages throughout the world. These include Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, Luxury Portfolio, Board of Regents, Christies Great Estates, EREN-The European Real Estate Network and London’s Mayfair International Realty, an organization representing 125 real estate brokerages with 350 offices throughout the United Kingdom, Europe and the Middle East.

Just since ringing in the New Year, Michael Saunders has logged thousands of air miles to take the podium at numerous international conferences—held on both sides of the Atlantic—to preach the marvels of paradise on Florida’s Gulf Coast. One week in New York, the next in Chicago; her next stop will be in the Dominican Republic where you will find her promoting Southwest Florida before an international conference of EREN, the European Real Estate Network, one of our newest brokerage partners. Comprised of 22 of the most prestigious European property firms, EREN operates from 53 offices in 10 countries. Then it’s off to Boca Raton for the international conference of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World where as chairman of the board for her third straight year she will welcome representatives from the organization’s 700 affiliate firms representing 160,000 sales associates from over 35 countries around the world.

Then it’s west to a conference in California, on to Denver, overseas to Rome, back to Denver, overseas to the UK, and so on throughout much of the year. To keep up with this annual schedule of promoting Southwest Florida to brokers around the world you’d need a few pairs of comfortable shoes and a year’s supply of Wheaties. And since it’s not uncommon to hear her friends and colleagues ask where in the world is Michael Saunders, a global positioning system couldn’t hurt.

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Finding The Silver Lining In A Climate Of Fear

Best-selling author Jane Bryant Quinn, who is also the financial columnist for Newsweek and Bloomberg.com, hit the nail squarely on the head the other night when she described in an evening news segment what smart investors should (and should not) do when markets turn sour amid tumultuous times in their cycles. In the segment, Ms. Quinn was speaking to the climate of fear that has been all but thumpingly palpable following the huge drop in stock prices that has plagued Wall Street in recent weeks.

“What worries me,” Quinn said, “is that there will be a tendency, as people get scared, to do exactly the wrong thing; to pull out just when the bargains are there and to go back in when buoyancy is at its height.” In other words, Quinn was trumpeting the golden rule of prudent investing that advises would-be Warren Buffets to buy low and sell high; while puzzling at those investors who pull out of the market during sell-offs and then sit idle, waiting for re-escalating prices to confirm that stocks are worth buying again. By then, of course, they’ve handicapped their ability to score the best possible return on their investment.

On the news program, Quinn was speaking to the present-day realities of a depressed stock market and the fear that prevents many people from exploiting moments exactly like this in order to make the shrewdest possible investments. What was striking about her words is that she could just as easily have been addressing the fear and paralysis that have prevented so many qualified homebuyers from taking advantage of the incredible values that exist in today’s real estate market. Bolstering her point in an analogy that anyone could relate to, Quinn went on to say: “If a winter coat was on sale somewhere at 15 percent off, you’d flock to the store and buy it. And you’d think you had a great deal.”

Real estate in Sarasota-Bradenton is in the midst of just such a sale. While no one can say for sure whether we’ve experienced the absolute final mark-down, by most accounts we already have—or will—within the first six months of 2008.

Despite all of the debate raging as to whether we’ve hit bottom—or not—hindsight is the only way to know for sure. By which time the lowest prices will have already disappeared into the rearview mirror. We much prefer the kind of foresight that Quinn believes separates shrewd investors from “wannabes.” If you can comfortably invest over the long term—three years or more—there’s never been a better time than right now to buy low on a home in Southwest Florida.

John Tucillo, once the Chief Economist for the National Association of Realtors, has plenty of experience translating hindsight gathered from past real estate corrections into educated foresight about what is likely happen next in this one. To an assembled group of local Realtors, Tuccillo had this to say: “Florida has led the nation in recession and should be coming out sooner than the rest of the country. And while migration into the state is down, it still is a significant factor. People will still come to Florida with a demand for jobs and housing. The present overbuilding will be taken off the market.”

For our part, we just love what Tucillo had to say when one of them asked if Sarasota would ever bounce back from its present-day slump. In words that echo how we’ve answered the same question amid every real estate correction of the past 30 years, Tucillo replied. “Stand up. Turn around and look outside. There’s your answer. Of course Sarasota will come back.”

Cordially,



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