Unlike some mid-sized cities, Sarasota’s downtown area is very vibrant and full of things to do, from shopping and dining to visiting attractive parks with the kids. As the county seat of Sarasota County, it is also home to all the government offices and entities that are responsible for the smooth running of the county. Add to that a number of businesses – both large and small – and you have a downtown area that attracts not only tourists but also business visitors as well.
The majority of the city’s and county’s public facilities are located in the downtown region of Sarasota.
- Sarasota County Courthouse – The beautiful Mediterranean-style Sarasota County Courthouse was built on a site donated by Charles and Edith Ringling. The original portions were constructed in 1926 and 1927 from designs by Dwight James Baum, whose architectural ideas for the structure included “a synthesis of Spanish Colonial Revival and Spanish Renaissance styles with Baroque and Rococo elements." Any additions made since then have been in keeping with the original style of the building. The courthouse includes two wings that symbolize the balance of power: one for administrative and the other for judicial business. The wings are connected by a tower and reflection pool.
- Sarasota Municipal Auditorium – Sarasota’s attractive art deco-style municipal auditorium was completed in 1938. Designed by Chicago architect Thomas Reed Martin, the auditorium was renovated between 1992 and 1997 and remains one of Sarasota’s only remaining art deco buildings. It is used for a variety of city-sponsored events and is on the National Register of Historic Places as is the nearby County Courthouse.
- Sarasota Skate Park – Owned and operated by the city, this skate park provides a place for area youth to hone their boarding skills. Open year round, it is located in the city’s Fruitville neighborhood.
- Children’s Fountain - Located in Bay Front Park (Ringling Blvd. & Bay Front Drive), this delightful city-owned fountain is a great place for kids to splash around and cool off during the hot Sarasota weather. Open for public use year-round, except when the air temperature dips below 65 degrees or during inclement weather, the fountain accommodates 120 bathers and can be reserved by local residents for special events.
- Sarasota County Library System – The county library system boasts 8 locations including 4 that are in Sarasota proper: the Selby Library, Fruitville Library, North Sarasota Library, and Gulf Gate Library. The Selby branch – the newest, opened in 1998 - boasts a 3,200 gallon arch-shaped salt water aquarium maintained by the staff at the nearby Mote Aquarium.
There are a number of well-known businesses – local, regional, and national – that maintain a major presence in Sarasota. Many of these businesses have chosen Sarasota over nearby Tampa Bay, basically because the area is less crowded and a bit more laid back. Sarasota businesses in the downtown area include:
- Jackson Hewitt – This tax preparation company recently moved its technology headquarters from Virginia Beach to downtown Sarasota. The headquarters is responsible for system-wide support of the JHI business including developing and maintaining the company's proprietary software applications, support of its worldwide network and communications systems, creation of tax education materials and resources, as well as providing a help desk for tax and technology support for all Jackson Hewitt Tax Service locations.
- Gemesis – This manufacturer of gem-quality diamonds boasts a newer facility in the town’s Lakewood Ranch area, combining two facilities – corporate offices and manufacturing - that used to be located in Gainesville and on Longboat Key. Though the company is now small – with less than 50 employees – they have international aspirations and continue to grow.
- BESTechnologies, Inc. – This company – known as BESTech – manufactures biological grease control systems for restaurants, food production facilities and municipal wastewater treatment systems worldwide. Their corporate headquarters in Sarasota is a $1 million, 12,000 square-foot facility.
- FCCI Insurance Group – This $600 million company, which sells commercial property and casualty insurance throughout the Southeast and Midwest, employs about 700 Sarasota area residents at their corporate headquarters in Sarasota.