Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Cabin Fever? Park It!

When I was a kid in Sarasota, I spent many hours outside, climbing the banyan trees in my neighborhood, riding my bike, running on the beach and many other outdoor activities that most kids do. I was a Boy Scout and spent those days camping and roaming the woods and enjoying nature at Camp Flying Eagle. Then we grow up and get too busy for our own good. We think we have to 'go on vacation' to spend time playing outside as adults. And now that we have a really good reason to spend time in the fresh air, we just don't do it enough.

The COVID-19 pandemic has tended to keep most us close to home and thankfully, we can work from home most of the time. But sometimes, we want to get away! We are being very careful so we don’t go out to dinner or to concerts and plays and the like. But this can lead to ‘cabin fever’. Knowing that spending time outside in the fresh air is fairly safe if social distanced, we plan to ‘park it' more often, especially now that Fall is right around the corner and we have a ton of places in Sarasota to choose from.

Beyond Sarasota County's beautiful beaches, shopping, dining and cultural amenities, there really is something else to make you feel better…get a glimpse of Sarasota’s "natural" side and its authentic beauty in our area parks! Sarasota county is home to many local parks and some of Florida's beautiful state parks as well, including Myakka River State Park, Spanish Point, Oscar Scherer State Park and Myakka State Forest. All are unique and feature a special, pristine Florida.

Everybody benefits from the offerings our parks provide. Direct exposure to nature has its own benefits on mental health, reducing stress and increasing happiness. In our increasingly digital world, unplugging is more important than ever. Being outdoors makes you healthier and happier. Fortunately, you don’t need to drive for days to a remote national park or drop a grand on fancy gear to enjoy the life-improving power of the outdoors. The nature fix you crave is closer than you think. There are so many reasons to head to one of Sarasota’s parks and take a refreshing break. Even walking for 25 minutes through a greenspace has positive benefits for your brain.

We have easy access to park and recreation amenities. You should just go. Put your cellphone down. Turn off the dang news. We all need  peace and tranquility in this crazy world. Go sit on a bench and catch up with nature. People watch. Bring a picnic lunch. Take in the sunset. That's the best thing about most parks! You don't really need to have a plan or have to “do” anything to enjoy—and benefit from—them. Simply going for walk by yourself is reason enough. Be a kid again!

Here is a link to help you find an area park that’s just right for you…you won’t believe how many there are to choose from!

Click here to find a park in Sarasota!

One of our favorite parks is Historic Spanish Point...take a look at this video and if you haven't been and would love a quiet walk through Florida history, GO!

Friday, August 21, 2020

Reinventing Myself...My Road to Becoming a Realtor in Sarasota!

When I was a teenager, my first job experience was working with my dad. He was a builder in Sarasota who bought empty lots, built spec houses one at a time and sold them. I was exposed to every aspect of building a home and after I put in my time in the Air Force, I had a few other professions, including…building houses again. Everything back then was by the book…literally. There were no computers to design houses, order materials for houses or MLS software to sell houses. But then it happened. The thing that tied everything together for me later in life. Computers.

My first computer did not have a hard drive or a mouse and had to be booted with a 5 ¼ floppy disk which loaded the operating system. Then another floppy had to be loaded with whichever program I wanted to run, such as a spreadsheet or a word processing program. The year was about 1988 and I had been bitten by the computer bug. I found it fascinating, logical and I began learning on my own.

Fast forward to 1998. In what seems like a decade that flew by, computers had exploded into our everyday world. At that time, I was a computer programmer and trainer. I taught DOS, accounting and programming classes at what was then known as Sarasota VoTech, and became SCTI, Suncoast Technical Institute. I was also a private computer consultant to small local businesses and I built and sold computers on the side. I finally decided I needed to reinvent myself using what I know and love, so in 1998, I began my career as the IT (Information Technology) Director at Re/Max Properties, now known as Re/Max Alliance Group. Back then, pretty much everything concerning buying and selling homes was still on paper; only the business systems and accounting were managed on computers.

These were the early days of transitioning to MLS software on the computer and more importantly in today’s world, moving from paper to paperless Real Estate transactions. At that time, not many of the Agents had personal computers, but that changed quickly and my Re/Max office grew and built a much larger building. It was my job to set up the entire network of hundreds of computers and related equipment in this new office to take us forward into the 21st century. I have memories of my wife Liz crawling around on the floor, hooking up the network drops for all the new computer workstations & printers for the agents. For the next 10 years, I held their hands when they were frustrated with all the new technology; I trained them on all the various software programs needed to do transactions…and we spewed out a LOT of paper! Our Re/Max office and the department I managed was one of the first Real Estate offices in Florida where transactions became paperless! We had entered the world of online forms that could be filled out and signed virtually.

After 10 years of serving the staff and agents and Re/Max…and learning from them, I decided it was time to use everything I had learned, reinvent myself again and become a Realtor. Fast forward again to today. Now I fly through home searches on MLS, sign offers and contracts online, manage my client contacts from special software programs (as opposed to a Roladex!), create timelines for all of our sales, set up property showings online, open locks with my cellphones to show homes…it’s a completely different world. And in such a short amount of time! Magic! Had it not been for the ability to conduct business online virtually, this ‘age of COVID19’ would have been devastating to our business.

The introduction and adoption of technology by Real Estate agents has clearly provided access to information such as listings, mortgage rates, fees and neighborhood demographics--previously unavailable to consumers. That increase in the quantity of available information has led to better quality information which, in turn, has led to better-informed consumers. Armed with more information, clients have demanded more specialized services as well as better service from Real Estate agents such as myself. 

As it turned out, I was was heavily involved in every aspect of the housing industry, from building the product to helping design some of the original Real Estate contract online systems, to getting the property information from multiple brokerages online, and finally helping the public find the ideal home for themselves.  I was literally on the ground floor of all of this…building homes, the computer revolution and selling homes. I am grateful that for the past 12 years, I have been able to pass on my expertise as a Realtor to assist my clients and help them find just the right home in my hometown…Sarasota!


Thursday, July 16, 2020

Fore! Golfing in Sarasota

While thinking of things to do outside in the fresh air during the COVID-19 pandemic, I happened to drive by Bobby Jones Golf Course on my way home. I have not played golf in years, but enjoyed it when I did and now Bobby Jones is undergoing changes with a smaller course and adding walking park…right up my alley! This got me thinking about the history of golf in my home town of Sarasota. It’s a very popular pastime, especially for retirees who move to the Sarasota area.  

Did you know that there are over 90 golf courses in the Sarasota/Manatee area? But Bobby Jones was one of the first ‘real’ courses. Was this the first golf course in America? Some say so. Let's let others argue about who was first, but to be sure, Sarasota was certainly a precursor of golf in the United States.

According to Sarasota History Alive, John Hamilton Gillespie built Sarasota's first golf course in 1905. It was a nine-hole course located in what is considered downtown today. It was Sarasota's only golf course until the 1920s. In 1924, the course was sold for development and Sarasota did not have a golf course. The first 18-hole course built was Whitfield Estates Country Club. To help promote the new course, famed golfer Bobby Jones came to Whitfield Estates at the request of the developers. The City of Sarasota was eager to build a golf course and purchased 290 acres, located 2 ½ miles from downtown, from the Palmer Estate and the East End Land Company. The 18-hole course was formally opened on Sunday, February 13, 1927, before a gallery of 1,500 golfers, with Bobby Jones as the star attraction and it was decided to name the course after Jones to “give it prestige.” The first members of the club read like a who's who of prominent early Sarasotans. Some of these members were early politicians Hugh Browning, Harry Higel, and of course, John Hamilton Gillespie, physicians Jack and Joseph Halton, landowners Owen Burns, Ralph Caples, Honore Palmer and J.H. Lord. The club drew up rules for the organization and by-laws for playing golf on the course. To play golf for the winter season cost $10. For those who did not want to commit to an entire season, the fee structure was $5 for one month, $2 for one week and 50 cents for one day.

During its eighty three years, Bobby Jones courses have challenged such immortals as Walter Hagen, Tommy Armour, Gene Sarazen and even the “Babe”, George Herman Ruth. Past LPGA greats including Patty Berg, Babe Dedrickson Zaharias and Louise Suggs made Bobby Jones a regular tour stop in the mid 1950’s. The current British Course record is 62 set by Sarasotan, Paul Azinger, in 1980. Over the years, Sarasota’s Bobby Jones Golf Complex attracted visitors from around the world who come to play the fairways and greens steeped in golfing history. And even after taking a dip in membership and revenues, it has been given new life as a smaller course with 27 holes and the surrounding 130 acres given over to green space, bike paths and nature trails. Hurrah!

After Whitfield Estates/SaraBay and Bobby Jones came Bent Tree, TPC Prestancia, Concession Club and on and on until now we have over 90 golf courses in our area! Some people worry about the future of golf, but to be honest I believe this game will always have a place in people’s hearts, whether it be for enjoying nature, exercise or competition…just get out there and enjoy! And if you are looking to buy a home in the Sarasota-Bradenton area that offers golf, let me know and I'll help you find just the right thing!

Here is a handy list of Sarasota Courses:

Monday, June 15, 2020

Round and Round We Go!

Top left: animal trough, Top Right: Flag pole & Traffic Light
Bottom: New Five Points Roundabout!

Perhaps you have lived in cities that have roundabouts and you are used to them. For those of us who grew up in Sarasota, for many years, there were only a few of them – St. Armand’s Circle, Five Points in downtown Sarasota and and Southgate Circle where Siesta Drive and Tuttle meet up. But now…WOW! It seems they are popping up everywhere to confuse and confound us with first, the construction and then…how to navigate them. So I got curious about them and here’s a little history.

Roundabouts, also known as traffic circles and rotaries, have been around almost a century, with the first documented one in the U.S. built in 1905 on the southwest corner of Central Park in New York City and named after Christopher Columbus. Carmel, California now has more than 125 roundabouts, more than any other city in the United States. Half of the world's roundabouts are in France although the United Kingdom has more as a proportion of the road than any other country. There are no official statistics, but estimates of the total number of traffic circles in France range from 20,000 to 50,000. 

In the United States — about 18 times bigger and five times more populous than France — the figure is closer to 5,000. One national study of roundabout trends found about 1,300 of them in Florida, more than any other state in the nation!

Although a seemingly new concept here in Sarasota to assist traffic flow or cause major mayhem...depending on your point of view...the roundabout has been a part of the local Sarasota scene since before Henry Ford’s Model T put the masses on wheels and in hospitals, according to local historian, Jeff LaHurd. Sarasota, in fact, was among the first communities in Florida, if not the entire United States, to center an object in the middle of an intersection and expect pedestrians and their conveyances to circumnavigate without bodily harm. Around 1887, John Hamilton Gillespie placed a public trough in the center of Five Points, at the time Sarasota’s busiest intersection, where Main Street, Pineapple and Mango (today’s Central Avenue) converged.

That was about 23 years before Sarasota’s first car to town, and while it did not have to share the roadway, there is no documentation that a car ever came in contact with a person or a horse-drawn buggy while circling the intersection. The trough was replaced in 1917 by a flag pole dedicated to Sarasota’s soldiers and sailors who were then fighting in Europe during World War I. No one argued that automobiles, then starting to make their presence felt downtown, could not get around it without running into one another. Along the small base was the simple but prudent instruction, “Keep To The Right.” Visionary developer John Ringling also must have been a proponent of traffic circles. His 1925 sales brochure for Ringling Isles featured Harding Place, a roundabout known today as St. Armand’s Circle. 

And as to Five Points downtown, the slim flag pole with the small base standing like a lonely sentinel in the
middle of the street was replaced by a more formidable roundabout, the American Legion War Memorial. It, too, was dedicated to the doughboys of World War I. A traffic light was affixed to it, topped off with a flag pole. Around the base, in bold letters, “KEEP TO RIGHT” and “NO LEFT TURN”. Liz’s Dad, artist John Hardy, depicted it in a two-page spread in the Sarasota Herald Tribune in 1951 as ‘The Hub of a Great Art Center’ in a wonderful drawing. But in 1954, the State Road Department bestowed upon it the term “traffic hazard.” And away it went, rolled down to Gulf Stream Avenue and placed in today’s Rev. J.D. Hamel Park, leaving South Gate Circle from the 1950s, and St. Armands Circle as the area’s roundabouts. Very recently, that has all changed.

Today, roundabouts are all the rage in Sarasota, in both senses of the word, keeping the flow of traffic moving safely and more efficiently -- or not. The roundabouts in the City of Sarasota have been part of city’s vision to improve connectivity and traffic flow for at least 20 years. That vision came to life when the traffic lights at Five Points were torn down in 2010 to make way for downtown’s central intersection roundabout. Now, there are eight completed roundabouts in the city and three under construction. These projects are expected to help alleviate traffic woes along U.S. 41 in northern Sarasota, while beautifying the area and boosting business at many of the struggling intersections. The roundabouts, to be built incrementally, also were designed to encourage more pedestrian traffic and so we are back to the days of our parents and grandparents...walking around downtown! 

For those of us who are NOT used to driving around them, here's a great video about how to navigate roundabouts:

Monday, May 18, 2020

Birds in the Celery?

As a consequence of staying safe at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the silver linings for me and for my wife is enjoying the wildlife in our backyard more than we usually do. I do not consider myself as a serious birdwatcher (my wife is) but I can certainly say it’s been relaxing to watch a pair of cardinals raise their two babies, along with the Redwing Blackbird and Tufted Titmouse’s little ones. We regularly see Redtailed Hawks as well as Osprey and Cormorants hunting for fish and prey. We have three bird feeders along with suet for the songbirds We also have two ground feeders filled with cracked corn for our resident ducks that live around our lake, which include Wood Ducks, Mallards, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and Mottled Ducks. We have also had the rare pleasure of observing Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks and Sandhill Cranes along with gators, otters and three types of turtles! All told, my wife has identified 42 different birds in our little ‘aviary’ out back.

The only other place close by for us to see all of this is The Celery Fields. It may seem to be a strange name for the county-owned preserve and home of the Sarasota Audubon Society’s Nature Center, so here’s a little history of yet another wonderful place to be outdoors in my hometown.

The Celery Fields got it name because of the area’s long history as an agricultural center where winter vegetables and, of course celery, were grown for consumption locally and for shipment nationwide. Area roads, with names such as “Packinghouse” and “Albritton Avenue” attest to the neighborhood’s long-standing agricultural heritage. The Celery Fields in east Sarasota just off Fruitville Road, has been important agriculturally and ecologically for more than 100 years, with the family of landowner Mrs. Bertha Palmer farming vegetables, predominantly celery, in the rich muckland from about 1920 on.

Construction of the Celery Fields began in 1923 and the main canals were finished by 1926. An experimental farm of 2,000 acres was set up and although different vegetables were tried, by 1927, it was decided to grow predominantly celery. Roads were built across the area and ditches served 10-acre tracts and artesian wells served two 10-acre tracts. The fields became part of a massive flood control project the county participated in to help quickly move storm water from the Phillipi Creek basin after severe flooding damaged scores of homes in the area in the aftermath of several heavy rain events in the early 1990s. The spoil hill was formed by the dredging of the farms, which were sold off as private units, continued to produce celery.

With the added water diverted to the fields came more fish and with more fish, more wading birds, especially avian hunters like Osprey’s and Kingfishers. With input from local naturalists and other members of the local chapter of the Audubon Society, shore vegetation like elderberry, saltbush and cord grass was planted. In 1995, Sarasota County acquired much of the land and the 360-plus-acre site now serves for flood mitigation and lucky for us, as a home to wildlife, walking and biking trails, birders and The Sarasota Audubon Nature Center.

We hope The Celery Fields can remain pristine forever for all the nature lovers out there such as ourselves.  Liz and I feel grateful to not only have it close by, but to have our very own little nature preserve right in our own backyard. The important thing is to take the time to enjoy it. Stay safe, be well and remember to revel in all the beautiful things around you!  

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Normal is a Setting on a Dryer

Merriam-Webster defines the word ‘normal’ as: conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected. A Southern friend of mine describes it this way: “Honey, ‘normal’ is just a settin’ on the dryer”! (This is also the title of a book by Patsy Clairmont, which is an good read right now).

I skipped last month’s Blog Newsletter because things have not been normal in my world, in the world of Real Estate and in fact, not normal for anyone in the world.  This COVID-19 pandemic has hit us on so many different levels that we are not sure what ‘normal’ is any more. And every one of us is trying to find their ‘new normal’.

This ‘quietness’ almost reminds me of the off-season back in the day…Sarasota used to be a ghost town all summer. Businesses closed or reduced hours. There was very little traffic. There were no crowds and no waiting to get in to your favorite restaurants. You could find a parking place at the beach. We could easily do pretty much whatever we wanted to do. But not now.

Some of the things I can’t do now:
  • Shake your hand
  • Touch anything without thinking about it first
  • Go to the grocery store willy-nilly like I used to
  • Go out to dinner
  • Go to baseball and football games
None of this is the end of the world! 

What I CAN do:
  • Be thankful that my wife and I are healthy (and I hope that you are too!)
  • Stay on top of the Real Estate market every day
  • Dive into more continuing education on Real Estate law and contract law
  • Stay in touch with you just to say “Hi”, which I will continue to do
  • Catch up on household projects (my wife’s Honey-Do list is very long) 
  • Enjoy some extended quiet time on the lanai with books I have been meaning to read
  • Take the time to truly appreciate my life and my career
I am staying focused on the silver linings we have. We still live in paradise and now there’s more time to reflect on how lucky I am to have grown up here in Sarasota. My wife Liz and I have taken some long drives lately…sightseeing in a sense, and seeing what we have with different eyes and reminding ourselves how special life is. Yes, it will take a while for Real Estate to come around and, as it will be with so many things after this pandemic is over, it will be a different normal but we will all be OK. So for now, I am staying home...working on my Honey-Do list and helping Liz put the clothes in the dryer and trying to find that setting that says 'Normal".

I am confident that the Real Estate market will be fine in Sarasota, Florida. I am not considered essential as a Realtor right now. But I am essential as your friend. You can count on that. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

There's a Chimp in the Dining Room!

Can you imagine all-night parties with entertainment by circus aerialists and chimpanzees performing during meals? These were mainstays of the John Ringling Towers Hotel. Located on the site now occupied by the Ritz-Carlton on Tamiami Trail, it was a hotel until 1957 when it was converted into an apartment complex. In its years of grandeur, celebrities often stayed at the lavish hotel, and visitors and diners enjoyed the circus entertainment, which included elephants, chimps, trapeze artists and clown performances. Ringling even had ropes, rings and bars installed in the Fountain Room for dinner performances.

The hotel was constructed in 1926 by Owen Burns and originally named The El Verona for his wife, Vernona. In the 1930s, John Ringling acquired the luxury hotel and changed the name. His nephew, John Ringling North indulged the hotel with all the trappings of their famous circus. From its earliest days, the hotel was the site of numerous celebrations, dinners, dances and became the focal point of many of Sarasota’s stellar events. 

The adjoining M’ToTo Room, named for the famed circus gorilla, was one of the most popular lounges in Sarasota…and greatly enjoyed by our parents back in the day. Named after Madame ToTo, the famous circus gorilla, the bar was hugely popular, one of Sarasota’s favorite and most colorful watering holes. Even during Prohibition, booze was plentiful, despite police raids.

The hotel was later transformed into apartments, and ultimately it was abandoned and  sadly, the 1926 landmark was demolished in 1998 after a failed court battle by the Sarasota Alliance for Historical Preservation to protect it. 

My wife and I have many memories of this once grand building…but not the chimps performing in the dining room! (Some of these things were before our time but have been passed down to us by our parents). Our memories are of our high school Cotillion dances, which were formal affairs that the guys hated (coat & tie) and the girls loved (formal gowns, long gloves, up-dos and heals!) And the memory of the wrecking ball demolition of this once grand building still weighs heavy...just like it did with the destruction of the Lido Beach Casino

But time marches on and the Ritz Carlton, which replaced the John Ringling building, is indeed lovely. It is such an irony that Ringling tried to build a Ritz Carlton on Longboat Key (The Ghost Hotel) and now the Ritz is on the site of his once popular hotel!

If you are looking for Real Estate in Sarasota, Florida, give me a call and we can meet at Jack Dusty's at the Ritz Carlton, have a drink and find the perfect home in paradise!

Here is a great video about the John Ringling Hotel and the M'Toto Room...Enjoy!