Luxury condos on Longboat Key


PHOTO GALLERY: Longboat Key luxury condo conversion

It was an $18 million lead balloon seven years ago. Now, veteran Sarasota developer Jay Tallman is being asked to pump it up and make it float.

He is off to a good start.

Villa-am-Meer, built in 1935 on Longboat Key. The property is being developed as the upscale Aria condominium; the house is being renovated for use as the clubhouse for residents. (Staff photo / Harold Bubil)

Villa-am-Meer, built in 1935 on Longboat Key. The property is being developed as the upscale Aria condominium; the house is being renovated for use as the clubhouse for residents. (Staff photo / Harold Bubil)

In a recovery luxury market, where wealthy buyers are not balking at prices of $1,000 a square foot or more, Tallman's Aria condominium on Longboat Key might just fly, even with its $4 million sticker prices.

"I had been chasing after this property for a long time," said Tallman, who like other developers saw the 5-acre parcel at 2251 Gulf of Mexico Drive, one of the last non-redeveloped beachfront estate properties on the barrier island, as an uncut gem. He almost had it under contract in the mid-1990s, but the owner changed her mind about selling.

Tallman and his former company, U.S. Assets Group, went on to develop the Orchid Beach Club (2005), en Provence, Beau Ciel, The Founders Club and other luxury communities. With EcoGroup, he developed Vizcaya on Longboat Key.

He was at the fore of the 2000s real estate boom. Lately, though?

"I pretty much crawled under a rock," said Tallman. But with a new project under his wing, Tallman is perhaps the happiest man on Longboat Key.

"I about fell over," he said, recalling the moment when he was approached by BBC Key LLC of Northbrook, Ill., about developing Aria, a 16-unit high-end condominium building on the site. "It feels great. This is what my passion is."

To do it, he is getting the band back together -- some of the same players who worked with him in the past, including interior designer Lori Fountain and Naples contracting company BCBE -- and adding a new talent, architect Alcides Santiesteban of Tampa.

Storied property

Developer Jay Tallman, right, and Tampa architect Alcides Santiesteban (cq) with a model of the Aria luxury condominium they have planned for a 5-acre site at 2251 Gulf of Mexico Drive on Longboat Key. (Staff photo / Harold Bubil)

Developer Jay Tallman, right, and Tampa architect Alcides Santiesteban (cq) with a model of the Aria luxury condominium they have planned for a 5-acre site at 2251 Gulf of Mexico Drive on Longboat Key. (Staff photo / Harold Bubil)

The property sold for $18 million in summer 2006, but Statewide Associates of Tampa was unable to redevelop it with town houses as the market dropped. BBC Key LLC later acquired it.

The 5-acre property, known as Villa am Meer, behind a landmark masonry entry gate, was developed by Dr. Hermann Kohl, a German-born chemist, and his wife, Hertha, in the 1930s. The childless couple, who came to America in 1911 and founded the flavor and fragrance company Norda Essential Oil and Chemical Co. Inc., were early investors in Tropicana, and purchased lots of local real estate. Research done by blogger Joy Baker shows they left Villa am Meer to gardener Romeo Amaducci's daughter, Elena, their legal ward.

Elena Amaducci's husband, career-long Norda employee Edward E. Benedict, became the company's chairman in 1971; Norda was acquired by Unilever in 1985. He died in 1989 at age 78, Elena in 2010 at 93. One of their daughters, Elise B. Browne, bought the property from a family trust in January 2006 for $5 million.

John Phillips, hired in 1925 by John Ringling to design the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, designed Villa am Meer's main house in 1935. The 3,000-square-foot house has hand-painted ceramic tiles, stained-glass windows, a stone fireplace, cypress ceilings, stone and tile floors, arched doorways and limestone exterior siding.

Built like a subtropical version of Fort Knox, Tallman is renovating it for use as Aria's clubhouse, complete with a guest suite.

"When I saw this home on the website, the exterior looked bad," said Santiesteban. "I was told we were saving the house, and I was not sold at all. But coming to the site, I could see how special it is. The walls are 1-foot, 6-inches thick. It is a fortress. It is something you want to preserve.

"Few buildings nowadays can have an amenities building as close to the water as this. It will act as a very interesting foreground feature for the views from the residences."

Tallman said a key to the planning was making sure the residences would have views of the water over the historic house.

Both the developer and the architect credit the City of Longboat Key with helping them make it work. "The city has been marvelous to work with. They know their stuff and are very cooperative. And they are very excited we are saving this," said Santiesteban.

"We recognize the benefit of keeping the house," said Tallman, "but I made it clear from the get-go, we can't compromise our views. For luxury buyers, the views are very important. Through Al's creativity and a cooperative relationship with the town, where they recognized what some of our needs were and helped us work through the challenges, we were able to site the building toward the southwest in such a way that it does not impede views."

Villa am Meer is not being preserved or restored, but adaptively reused, said Tallman. "It is a change of use, so there are things we have to do; we could not make it absolutely authentic. Wherever possible, we are trying to keep original features."

The ground floor of the house will be used as a caretaker's apartment and bathrooms for the pool.

"We are grandfathered in for the elevation -- coding up the electrical, plumbing, HVAC within the 50 percent rule. The house, as old as it is, had no structural damage."

The condominium

Aria, designed by Santiesteban, is to be the height of luxury. Units of 3,833 to 3,940 air-conditioned square feet will be priced from $3.44 to $4.25 million.

Each unit runs from the front to the back of the building and range in width from 56 to 72 feet. Units on the lowest floor have expanded terraces and are priced at about $4.2 million.

The building has a rounded modernist appearance.

"All the feedback we were getting from Realtors and prospective buyers was, 'We want a contemporary look.' It is a modern style, but with warmth to it," said Tallman. "The challenge was coming up with a plan that would have the contemporary styling while still celebrating and embracing the history of this building. Our design team saw it as an opportunity."

Tallman's new company, Ascentia Development group, will start its sales effort in mid-January, when $100,000 refundable reservations will be taken. He says he has received many calls from Realtors about the project.

Construction is expected to begin in summer 2014 and should take 15 to 17 months.

The units are being sold finished, as opposed to the "designer-ready" shells marketed during the boom. Lori Fountain of FT Design, who also worked on Orchid Beach Club, en Provence and the clubhouse and golf cottages at The Founders Club, will do the interior design and work with buyers on customization.

An important part of the project, given the long, narrow parcel, is the landscape architecture. Phil Graham will handle that assignment.

Boran Craig Barber Engel (BCBE) of Naples, which built Beau Ciel, Vizcaya and the Orchid Beach Club in Sarasota, is the general contractor.

Santiesteban's portfolio includes a number of high-rise condos in Naples, including the sought-after Park Shore community, which is known as "the Monaco of the Gulf."

"We have done more than $1 billion worth of projects in the U.S.," said the architect, "most of it multifamily. We have done projects overseas, but we learned the hard way we would rather work in the U.S. We like getting paid. We were pleasantly surprised when Jay came to us, and we have gathered the A-team."

Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: December 29, 2013
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