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FBI In the News ~ Herald Tribune: New Michael Saunders & Company Office Opens

Date: October 7, 2016

Photo by: Herald Tribune / Thomas Bender

SARASOTA — Michael Saunders & Co. unveiled new office space for its downtown residential agents Thursday afternoon, but it took some pushing by one of the company’s commercial agents to make the deal happen.

Eric Massey had to convince Michael Saunders, the company's founder, and her son, Drayton, its president, that 16,000 square feet on the highly visible ground-floor in a high-rise building was not too much, in either size or expense. “You don’t say ‘no' to Eric Massey,” Michael Saunders said. She and Drayton had to at least hear him out. Formerly occupied by Bank of America, the 1969-vintage building is being redeveloped by Manatee County-based Benderson Development Co. The Saunders leadership now sees it as a prime opportunity that could serve the company for 25 years.

But it took some convincing. Massey thought the space would work, and he kept pushing. He earned a commission from his boss and the Benderson company. “We were thrilled to pay the commission because he was absolutely determined,” Michael Saunders said. “We just thought we weren’t going to do it. We thought it was too much space, that it was too expensive, too big an undertaking. And Eric just kept at us and Benderson until he made it work.”

After 29 years, Saunders' downtown residential branch had outgrown its space at the corner of Main Street and Osprey Avenue, Michael Saunders said. As charming as that building is, it really had lived its useful life,” she said of what once was the Saprito Fruit Co. before she remodeled it in 1987. “I look long-term, as does Drayton, and we knew that someday we would have to move. You couldn’t rebuild on it while you are running your largest residential branch there.”

Massey came up with the idea of moving into the building, which also is known as the Ellis Bank building, for its original tenant. Saunders had been looking to move its support services and technology center out of a building it owns in the 300 block of South Orange Avenue. Massey went to Michael and Drayton Saunders and said, “Why don’t you look at the Bank of America building?” Michael Saunders responded by asking, “Why would we look at that? We don’t want any tower space for our support services." He said, "Come and look. Come and look."

“And here was 16,000 square feet on the ground floor, prime intersection, heart of downtown. We are committed to downtown. It is the best place to have a business. We said, ‘This is too expensive to put our support services in,' so then we started talking and said, ‘This is going to be our best opportunity in the next 25 years to find dynamite space for the relocation of Main Street and the residential branch.’ ”

The company worked with Fawley Bryant Architects — first with Rick Fawley, then with interior-design director Sarah Colandro — to make the vast space into a cohesive layout that is open, bright, airy and fosters both individual and collaborative efforts.

“More energy, more productivity,” Michael Saunders said of the new space. “It is our commitment as owners to our troops and our staff. It shows we are investing in the future of Sarasota and our agents so they can do their best work. You get peak performance out of innovative spaces.”

While a representative of Saunders’ title, rental and mortgage divisions have desks in the new space, those divisions will remain in their current buildings adjacent to the old residential branch at Main and Osprey. Eventually, support services will vacate the Orange Avenue site, which will be sold and eventually redeveloped, Michael Saunders said. The company will retain its new-home showcase office on South Washington Boulevard, where Michael and Drayton have their offices.

The new office differs from many residential real estate brokerages in that the windows — there are lots of them on the ground — are not covered with printed listings flyers.

“The displays along Orange and Main are very, very different,” Michael Saunders said. “You will see untraditional, atypical real estate display windows. We do have listings on the Main Street side, and a tribute to our legacy in Sarasota. And then from the Orange side, it is designed to evoke emotion from anyone walking down that street and make them think about how they could make a house their home. Tantalize them with thoughts of home.” In-house designer Shane Hughes worked with consultant Eric Cross, a former window designer for Saks Fifth Avenue and Marshall Field & Co., on the windows.

Herald Tribune

By Harold Bubil, Real estate editor