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Business Observer Monday, Apr. 11, 2022 5 months ago

Residents, retail tenants at former Dolphin Tower await answers

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A major project to repair The 101 Condominium's parking garage will have an effect — but what level that remains unknown.
by: Louis Llovio Commercial Real Estate Editor

Residents and retail tenants at the former Dolphin Tower in Sarasota, once evacuated for years because of structural problems, have been waiting the past few weeks to learn how repairs to the building’s parking garage will affect them.

The building association’s president expected to hear from engineers on the project April 1 and then later on the week of April 4. As of April 11, word on how the work will be scheduled and what will happen to residents and retail tenants had not yet come. The 15-story tower, now known as The 101 Condominium, is in downtown Sarasota, on 101 S. Gulfstream Ave.

“The contractor is promising they will give us a revised shoring plan by the end of the day tomorrow. That will give us the impact on the commercial unit owner and her tenants,” Jim Toale, the association's president, wrote in an email to the Business Observer April 7.  

In an email the following day, Toale deferred to the contractor, R.L. James, for further questions on timing. Gary Wasser, partner and vice president of estimating and sales at Fort Myers-based R.L. James, says in an April 11 email the company is still finalizing the plans and cannot share information until discussing it with the client, which is the building association board. He adds in the note that he may be "better prepared to comment" the week of April 18. 

The uncertainty is making an already stressful situation even more stressful. This is especially true for retail tenants along a strip at the rear of the tower on Palm Avenue. They’ve been waiting since at least mid-March to hear what the work will entail and what it will mean for their shops.

The great fear is having to move. Some tenants say a disruption, whether it be short or long term, could be costly, and there’s also fear the businesses won’t be able to survive.

As for residents, the last time they had to leave for structural repairs the building was closed for several years.

Toale, in a March email, told the Business Observer that “It is obvious that there will be an impact to our residents, the commercial unit’s owner and her tenants.”

The hope, of course, is the work can be done in such a way as to minimize the disruption. 

This is not the first time this building has been faced with a situation like this.

Built in the early 1970s, the Dolphin Tower, as it was then known, was shut down in 2010 after major structural issues were discovered on the fourth floor. Residents were forced to evacuate, and the building remained closed for several years.

According to published reports from the time, within a month of discovery, the problem was so severe it could have led to a collapse, similar to what happened to the 12-story Champlain Tower South in Surfside last year.

The problem this time is in the building’s three-story parking garage, which has been closed for repairs since at least mid-March.

The current project, according to the association, will strengthen the connections between some of the columns in the garage and the parking decks.

The fix involves supporting the parking decks around the columns requiring corrective work with temporary supports called shoring — used to support a building to prevent collapse.

The issue was first discovered during a structural strengthening project eight years ago. An engineer at that time found the connection between some of the columns and the parking deck was not strong enough. Despite the discovery, the engineer did not place urgency on correcting the condition, the association says.

The design to correct the issue was completed two years ago and a special assessment to complete the work was approved in November 2020.

Keeping a close eye on what's happening at the building is the city of Sarasota. A spokeswoman says, “the engineer of record is monitoring the project and keeping the city informed.”

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