Sarasota, Florida — Hollywood is to California what Sarasota is becoming to Florida’s west coast, a place where movie stars and sports stars call home.
Sarasota, where many visitors vacation for its white, sandy beaches and small town feel with big city attractions, is also attracting the rich and famous. The name dropping covers professional sports tennis stars Monica Seles and tennis legend Martina Navratilova, as well as popular wrestling announcer Gene “Mean Gene” Okerlund.
“It’s paradise. Why wouldn’t anyone want to live here?” said basketball Hall of Fame inductee and analyst Dick Vitale, who has called Sarasota’s Lakewood Ranch home for 10 years.
He can be found most mornings at the Broken Egg having breakfast and reading his five daily newspapers while giving phone interviews nationwide.
Vitale said, “I think we have great restaurants, lots of arts, the Van Wezel, great shows. January, February, no better place to be than here.”
Lightning owner Jeff Vinik recently bought and tore down a $4 million, 6,100 square-foot home on St. Armands Key. Vinik and his wife reportedly like being close to St. Armands Circle for its restaurants and shops.
St. Armands is also the site of the Circus Hall of Fame. Sarasota’s circus history lives on in famous high wire artist Nik Wallenda. The Sarasota native is known for crossing Niagara Falls, and most recently the Grand Canyon, without a safety net.
Brian Johnson, the lead singer for AC/DC, lives on Bird Key and so does syndicated talk show host and former politician Jerry Springer.
Joe Perry of Aerosmith has a condo on Longboat Key. Dickey Betts, founding member of the Allman Brothers Band, calls Sarasota home too.
The rich and famous come to Sarasota looking for privacy. Northern Casey Key is home to Stephen King, and now Rosie O’Donnell. The comedian and actress spent $5 million on a 4,600 square-foot Caribbean beach house and sold her home on the star studded Star Island near Miami.
“Greater Sarasota is about quality and quality attracts folks who can go almost anywhere they want,” said Steven Queior, Sarasota Chamber of Commerce president.
Queior said the rich and famous want a good deal too, and they can find it in Sarasota. He said about one million dollars can buy a small waterfront mansion and fewer traffic headaches, unlike LA, New York, or Miami.
Queior said, “The accessibility to go to cultural attractions down by the waterfront, 80 restaurants in Downtown Sarasota, or one of 42 golf courses, all these things are so accessible.”
Vitale said there are no paparazzi and celebrities can find privacy. He said, “People in this area respect celebrities. They’re good about it and treat you like royalty in a nice way. They allow you to eat dinner at a restaurant and not hassle you.”
Some of the famous people who call Sarasota home give back. Vitale is passionate about his pediatric cancer research fund raiser at the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota.
“Every dollar I will make goes to my goal with the V Foundation. Ten years in a row [it’s] done $10.3 million dollars,” said Vitale.
Local leaders expect Sarasota to attract more headliners. Queior said, “As we continue to add assets down by the water, in culture, in sports, recreational tourism, I think more will move here part of the year or full time.”
Vitale said, “It’s a great place to live.”