In today’s Herald Tribune
By Michael Pollick and Toni Whitt
The wealthy have long come to Sarasota, but these days Sarasota is developing something more: cachet.
WEALTH DENSITY WITHIN FLORIDA
Percentage of households with more than $1 million in investable assets.
Source: National City Private Client Group, 2006 statistics
from TNS, SNL Datasource
Within the last few weeks, Sarasota got the official word that both Waldorf-Astoria and Nederlander Worldwide plan to join the Sarasota scene, signing up for a lavish four-star hotel, condos and an 800-seat off-Broadway performing arts center at the $1 billion development to be known as the Proscenium.
They aim to join the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota, whose November 2001 arrival helped set the stage for a string of global names — Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Van Cleef & Arpels and Lilly Pulitzer — and left other brands sniffing around the territory with renewed enthusiasm.
“Some clients are flying their own personal chefs in with them.”
The Waldorf-Astoria Collection, a high-end resort unit of Hilton Hotels, has just five other properties, including the Arizona Biltmore, The Grand Wailea in Hawaii, and La Quinta in Palm Springs. The company, now owned by the muscular Blackstone Group, plans to roll out the brand into a string of Waldorfs around the world.
“Higher household income, highly educated, generally well-heeled travelers,” said Edward J. Russo, Waldorf-Astoria’s senior director of marketing. “Our customers are very experiential. They are not going to these locales and staying in their room.”
In Sarasota, that might mean not only going to the beach, but also golfing or boating, going to a play, visiting a museum and experiencing the architecture, Russo said.
You can bank on it
Once the wealthy begin populating a place, the people who take care of their money show up, too.
The latest to see the need in Sarasota is National City Corp.’s Private Client Group, a wealth management organization handling not just banking, but also every single financial need the wealthy could possibly have.
“We’ve been in Florida for about 20 years, both in Naples and in Palm Beach,” said Matthew Lowell Bower, the senior vice president who opened the Sarasota office on Jan. 4.
While the firm is willing to deal with the emerging affluent — those with investable assets of $500,000 to $1 million — its core customers have assets of $1 million to $20 million.
“One out of nine individuals in the Sarasota market has a million or more in investable assets,” Bower said. “Just the corridor from Naples up into the Tampa-St. Petersburg market is probably the sixth or seventh most wealthy corridor in the United States.”
The region’s evolution into a watering hole for the wealthy began long ago, always focused on watery views with cultural overtones.
Its nascence goes back to 1910, with the arrival of Chicago heiress Bertha Palmer. She built a bayfront winter home south of downtown Sarasota, “The Oaks.” In the succeeding years, the Ringlings and friends built their homes on the north side of town, leaving room for yachts to dock.
“The entire west coast of Florida is the best cruising market, in my opinion, of anywhere in the world,” said Carmine Galati, co-owner of Galati Yacht Sales, just named the best yacht sales organization in the world by Boating magazine. He runs the firm’s yachting centers at Naples, Anna Maria Island and Tampa.
By 1926, downtown Sarasota was strutting its stuff with the opening of the A.B. Edwards Theater, an early mixed-use development graced by an elaborate three-story-high entrance. In addition to a movie theater, the building had ground-floor shops, second-story offices and third-story apartments.
In 1983, it was dusted off as the Sarasota Opera House.
Just in time to save the 2008 winter season, the opera house reopened March 1 after extensive updating and remodeling, to the tune of $20 million. It has medium-sized Sarasota being written up for opera by both London’s Financial Times and L’Opera magazine, based in Milan, Italy.
The presence of the opera, the Ringling College of Art and Design, the Ringling Museum and dozens of downtown art galleries — well-established features of the cultural landscape — made it all the easier for those who came during this decade’s boom years. In the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota’s wake came a passel of fancy condominiums and upscale shops and restaurants. The people who moved into those new condos, in turn, encouraged Whole Foods to establish its downtown Sarasota store, giving the area even more of a center of gravity.
Back when Ritz announced it would build a hotel here, Lynn Robbins of Coldwell Banker began making calls to Naples to find out what difference the hotel might make. The answer, she found, was that it would completely change the landscape for the rich.
“What it did do, it brought a lot of people here who heard about Sarasota, but they wouldn’t come here unless there was a Ritz or a Waldorf or a Four Seasons,” Robbins said. “And they come here and they fall in love with it and buy a second, third or fourth home.”
This Ritz effect continues to generate ripples.
Consider Hyde Park Steakhouse — scheduled to open Tuesday — where Kobe beef burgers and Russian caviar are on the bar menu — or the Paris-based jewelry house Van Cleef & Arpels, which moved into Southgate mall late last year.
No quiet ribbon-cutting would do for the jeweler. Instead, Van Cleef & Arpels flew in soprano Patricia Johnson, a specialist in the Italian bel canto repertoire. Johnson has performed at The Met with the New York City Opera, and her European debut was as Konstanze in Mozart’s “Die Entführung aus dem Serail” with the Komische Oper Berlin.
“It appealed to our core client,” said Nathalie Diamantis, a vice president for the New York-based jeweler. “We often do things with the arts.”
One solid barometer of how Sarasota is catching on with the jet set comes from Flight Options, which sells flight hours aboard a private, crewed jet.
“You put a deposit down, draw travel time against that,” said company spokeswoman Cindi Deutschmann-Ruiz. “It takes $100,000 to begin.”
With prices of $3,400 to $8,000 per hour, $100,000 can be exhausted quickly.
Flight Options recently cranked out a Top 10 list of places rich people want to take its jets during the winter. Sarasota came in at No. 6.
Palm Beach was No. 1, and the Sundance Film Festival pushed Salt Lake City into the No. 2 slot. After that came Las Vegas, Naples and Boca Raton. The ski village of Aspen, Colo., was No. 8.
Retail is another sign of Sarasota’s growing cachet.
Before signing on the dotted line in Sarasota, Neiman-Marcus studied, among other things, just how many black-tie events were held each year. The company did extensive demographic and psychographic
research, said Wayne Hussey, the company’s vice president of development.
The Dallas-based retailer is known for selling Armani tuxedos and gowns, as well as fashions by Versacci, Gucci, Roberto Cavelli, Nina Ricci and Carolina Herrera, and it operates just 39 stores. They are in places like Bal Harbour, Palm Beach, Beverly Hills, New York, Honolulu, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Boston and Denver.
The Sarasota community has “a very sophisticated and fashion-conscious segment of residents,” Hussey said.
“The thing that appeals to us is its diversity — its strong business environment, the cultural element that it offers, compared to other Florida cities, and its high level of season.”