Michael Saunders discusses a $4 million investment in downtown Sarasota office space

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Michael Saunders & Company may have sold its downtown property last year, but after a $4 million investment, Sarasota’s largest independently owned real estate firm will remain at the heart of the community for years to come.

Luxury real estate brand matriarch Michael Saunders remembers a very different time when she started her company in a small office on St. Armands Circle.

Times have changed over nearly 50 years.

“It was only 1,200 square feet. I couldn’t afford any more,” Saunders said. “I even had to get a male client to co-sign a $5,000 bank loan because they wouldn’t loan money to a woman.”

Since that first loan, the company has expanded to more than 20 offices throughout the region and has sold billions of dollars in real estate.

The company’s executive offices were located in three Michael Saunders & Co.-branded yellow properties — two buildings on Main Street and another at 100 S. Washington Blvd., where the company has purchased properties during its growth since its founding in 1976.

Now, all of the company’s support departments work together under one roof in new offices, increasing efficiency and enhancing teamwork.

The 20,000 square feet of office space is located on the fourth and fifth floors that the company leases at 1605 Main Street in the Wells Fargo Advisors building between Orange and Adelia streets. The company also rents a large showroom on the ground floor that has been there for several years.

Saunders also purchased the St. Armands office where the company started a few years ago.

Did you get a deal after renting the property for decades?

“Well, no, there aren’t a lot of exceptional deals to be had in the St. Armands Circle area,” she said of paying the market rate.

“Really, the company was built brick by brick in response to need — in response to what consumers needed about our location,” she said. “That’s why we have 23 offices spread out along the coast. And when we started providing great service, they wanted our physical locations to be closer to them.”

Base downtown Sarasota

That will include downtown Sarasota for the foreseeable future, after years of planning to enhance the company’s headquarters.

The company first expanded into downtown Sarasota in 1987 and has always been very involved in the community, Saunders said.

“We really think what sets us apart is that Drayton (her son and a company executive) and I are in the middle and have our hands on everything that happens,” she said. “When you look at where decisions are being made for other companies, they’re not being made here locally. I think being in the heart of Sarasota is a real advantage.”

Drayton Saunders stands next to his mother, Michael Saunders.

Drayton Saunders stands next to his mother, Michael Saunders.

The $4 million project comes at a time when the future of office space remains a question mark for many as employees push back on return-to-office requirements in favor of the freedom offered by pandemic work-from-home policies.

However, Saunders’ investment makes her case in this direction, noting that real estate marketing is a creative business that often achieves the best results when a team works together to best highlight the strengths of a particular property.

“The goal was to show that we respect our employees and wanted them to come to work in a physical space that was light, bright, functional and served our current business needs, but also had the flexibility to help us grow,” she said.

Saunders tapped interior designer Angela Chang, now a freelance interior designer, and Stu Henderson, a partner at Fawley Bryant Architecture, to create a space where the firm’s nearly 80 employees, including its commercial real estate division, will call home for years to come.

About 90 parking spaces have been provided with a 20,000 square foot lease for the two floors of the building.

“That was critical in this city,” she said of ample parking. “Everyone who has tried to park in this city knows that it is important.”

Previous coverage: Q&A: Michael Saunders discusses the consolidation of downtown Sarasota and the future of yellow offices

more: How much have property values ​​increased across Sarasota-Manatee? Billions have been added to the tax rolls

Evolution, not extinction

Michael Saunders & Co.’s investment in office space comes at a time of national debate about a looming crisis in the office sector of the real estate market, with some city municipalities looking to large office towers as potential housing to solve a growing affordability crisis.

The pandemic has allowed large numbers of white-collar workers to do most of their jobs from home, a feature many are loathe to give up.

But this could leave large gaps in office towers as companies rent less space when leases expire due to reduced space needs, putting the finances of large business owners at risk.

Some have warned of an office bubble about to burst on the level of the Great Recession, according to an article From Foutune.com in November.

Those fears have not materialized so far, as JLL, one of the country’s largest commercial real estate brokerages, announced that office rental prices will rise by 0.3% in 2023.

But that hasn’t stopped some cities from seeing the possibility of offices withdrawing.

The city of San Francisco sent out a request for interest from developers about what to do with underutilized office space last June.

Bosses have begun asking employees to return to their offices, making headlines along the way as employees resist abandoning their work-from-home lives.

The two office design professionals who helped Michael Saunders & Co. In designing her space, she recently discussed the issue with the Herald-Tribune.

Both overwhelmingly believe that there has been an evolution in office use rather than an extinction.

Henderson said the rise in remote work has not eliminated the need for companies to have physical locations, despite the bleak headlines cited by national publications.

“A well-designed headquarters serves as a physical representation of the company’s brand and values, leaving a positive impression on customers, partners and employees,” he said. “Although remote work has become more prevalent, it has not eliminated the need for a physical office space. Companies are realizing the importance of in-person collaboration, enhancing company culture, and providing a professional environment for meetings and events.”

Chang said evolving technology requires business leaders and business owners to reimagine office layouts to best meet their companies’ needs. Done well, workspaces foster communication and collaboration among employees.

This article originally appeared on the Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Michael Saunders is committing to downtown Sarasota with a $4 million renovation

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