St Armand’s Key is an exclusive miniature island. At roughly a ½ mile from end to end, it is easy to stroll from one end to the other in about 12 minutes. Nestled in the center of St Armand’s Key is a large roundabout with a small park in the center known as St Armand’s Circle. The Circle is an historic development and a key destination in Sarasota, boasting more than 130 boutiques, galleries, stores, and restaurants. This location offers walkability to many amenities, including Lido Beach, and is home to Sarasota’s highest real estate values.
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St Armands Key
Circus Magnate John Ringling was the visionary behind St Armand’s. Ringling was inspired by Renaissance Italy and in St Armand’s he replicated a place with broad boulevards, elegant landscaping, sculptures, sophisticated shops and restaurants, and a central park.
Today St Armand’s is truly a testament to what can be achieved by great landscaping, design and planning. The park in the center is transformed throughout the year to host holiday events, concerts, art & craft festivals, car shows, and food festivals.
The Circle offers a span of 130 restaurants, galleries, shops, and services. It is particularly famous for its homemade fudge and ice cream shops. Sarasota Memorial now has an Urgent Care Clinic right on the Circle allowing residents health care access 7 days a week.
St Armand’s Key is only 2 miles from Downtown Sarasota by way of the Ringling Causeway. It is surrounded by islands as it connects to Bird Key to the east, Lido Key to the west, and Longboat Key to the north.
In 1893 a Frenchman by the name of Charles St Amand purchased roughly 132 acres for less than $30.00. He used the land to grow produce and to fish in Sarasota’s bay. He would then sell his goods at the City Pier in Sarasota. In a typographical error on the original deed his name was recorded as Armand and the misspelling stuck.
The whole of St Armand’s Key was purchased and developed in the early part of the 20th Century by Sarasota visionary John Ringling, of Ringling Circus fame. Ringling envisioned the shops and grand promenades circling the central park. Originally there were no causeways, so Ringling’s steamboat was used to transport workers and materials.
His laborers built two bridges over the course of a year to connect St Armand’s to downtown. Once people could get to the island easily, Ringling hoped to sell them residential and commercial space. However everything came to a sudden stop due to the Great Depression.
In the 1940’s a few investors began opening restaurants and by the 1950’s everything was starting to take shape again. Now Ringling’s vision is thriving with the meticulous landscaping, numerous statues and the nearly 140 businesses that attract locals and tourists from surrounding areas.
Sculpture was an instrumental part of Ringling’s vision from the start. In 2007 a movement by the St Armand’s Key Resident Association and St Armand’s Circle Association came together with the goal to preserve the Ringling era states dating back to the 1920s. In addition, the initiative has installed 21 new classically-themed white marble statues.
In 1987 The Circus "Ring of Fame" was built around the perimeter of St Armand’s Central Park. This set of bronze wagon wheel plaques celebrates world famous circus performers and the rich circus heritage of the Sarasota area.
When you visit the Circle you can stroll past decades of circus history, reading the plaques of many circus greats such as famed animal trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams, astounding aerialists the Flying Wallendas and Lillian Wetzel, timeless clowns Lou Jacobs and Emmett Kelley. Also of note, the Ring includes the most famous showman of all times, P.T. Barnum, as well as the visionary who brought the circus to Sarasota, John Ringling.
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