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The final solution at the north end

GENE JALESKI
Guest Columnist
opinion@lbknews.com

What to do at the north end to solve the failed commercial blight that has been becoming increasingly worse over the past 20 years? The time has come for the town to work with the taxpayers to create a solution that will allow the surrounding 500 residences to coalesce as a neighborhood, free of the specter of an abandoned Whitney Beach Plaza, gas station and bank building.

The taxpaying north end residents are not able to support retail at the north end for many reasons. Longboat Key residents need to realize that there is three times more commercial property on Longboat Key than the 3,000-plus-year-round residents can support. Some of this land needs to be converted to residential or public use. The north end, with its concentration of 500-plus residences within a few minutes walk from Whitney Beach Plaza, is the most advantageous place to create a community park that will have high usage by the surrounding homes while raising property values and hopefully attracting more families.

A community park at Whitney Beach Plaza and the adjacent properties would not require parking since 1,000-plus residents own property within a few minutes walk of the park facility. There is existing public parking across GMD if needed. The park could provide social activities such as pickle ball, bocce ball and shaded areas for socializing. Tables and chairs tastefully located beside the bayou would provide a beautiful ambiance while respecting the fragile ecology of the waterway and adjacent residences.

Visitors to our island would be greeted by an attractively landscaped natural setting as they come onto Longboat Key from the north. A community park would have zero impact on traffic congestion. If the town reduces the speed limit to 35 MPH along the northern part of GMD, as has been done quite effectively by Bradenton Beach, residents would be able to traverse the highway in relative safety.

Whatever efforts the town might make to encourage commercial development at the north end, two things would remain unresolved and prolong the present decay brought on by the inability of the business community to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The first is the predictable resistance by the 500-plus residence owners surrounding Whitney Beach Plaza to tourism, as it threatens their way of life. The second is the town’s inability to guarantee that any developer will be willing to invest millions at a location with very low drive-by numbers, as has been pointed out by the current owners of Whitney Beach Plaza. No one has been able to attract a successful business there in the past 20 years.

There is a fix for the commercial property blight that has existed at the north end for too many years. It is a solution that would increase the value of the surrounding 500-plus homes and condominiums while not increasing density or congestion — a community park.

Given the fiscal obligations the town currently faces, such as resolution of pension funding and the much larger and ongoing beach maintenance program, finding a way to purchase the commercial properties at the north end would be no small challenge. An ad valorem bond could be one mechanism. Another might be a privately offered tax-free instrument to the current property owners, somewhat like an owner-financed mortgage. But the projected tax base differential between the current decaying commercial land at the north end and a beautiful community park, which would augment the island’s bucolic ambiance, would probably be more than enough to off-set the cost of a low interest mortgage on $6 million in land acquisition costs. Please do not take issue with these estimates — they are just that, estimates. This is a discussion and open to constructive input.

 

There are so many pluses attached to turning the empty, decaying commercial property at the north end of Longboat into a beautiful community park, surrounded by 500-plus residential properties, that a park almost looks too good to pass up. The aggregate value of residential real estate directly surrounding Whitney Beach Plaza exceeds $200 million. Only a modest increase in assessed property values, as a result of added community amenities, would more than pay for the $6 million long-term low interest loans used to acquire the approximately eight acres of commercial land to be included in the community park.

The choice between taking a chance that some commercial development will occur at the north end after 25 years of nothing as the result of some sort of commercial overlay, or the assured increase in property values resulting from transforming deteriorating and non-performing commercial property into a highly desirable community park, is clear. In the long run, the taxpayers of Longboat Key would profit most from investing in their own community. All ships rise on the tide, it is said. Actually, the county should buy all the commercial property, as they will profit most from increased ad valorem taxes.

 

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1 Response for “The final solution at the north end”

  1. billcue says:

    To add some perspective to a cure for north end commercial blight.

    1) total taxable value of Longboat Key – $4.6 billion.

    2) cost to convert Whitney Plaza commercial property into north end park – 6 million.

    3) cost to community per $1000.00 of property valuation – $1.30 – spread out over a 30 year bond – $0.10 a year per $1000 of valuation.

    I believe the entire community will profit from ridding our community of the decades-old commercial eyesore on the north end.

    If the commissioners remain inactive on this issue, there will most likely be a swift movement within the community to place the decision in the hands of the voters. We, as a community can no longer afford to hear for another 2.5 years the assurances from the developers, that we have been hearing for a decade now, Mercedes is in the shop, check is in the mail and we will have a full strip mall of tenants next month. Putting lipstick on an unattractive 50’s failed strip mall is just that. Would you open a store there? Will you shop there when the new Publix center opens?

    Next month we will have a referendum on the ballot on this issue if the commission does not act in favor of its residents, instead of being bamboozled by a few people. The residents are the important ones here.

    A year was wasted on a still-borne grandiose expansion of tourism on the north end. A year of continued depressed property values and commercial blight. It is time to cut our losses and solve our own problem of non-performing commercial property on the island just like Publix is doing. It is time for a public-private partnership in our community to address the financial obstacles that are preventing any improvements to the real estate market on the north end. Public-private partnerships are a commonly used means of revitalizing depressed financial zones in communities. As was stated in the above article 10 cents a year per thousand valuation to cure the blight, increase property values and expand the beauty of Longboat Key. As financial partners in a public-private partnership, the town will receive part of all on-going profits from the joint venture without financial risk.

    http://lbk-folk.blogspot.com/2012/05/final-solution-at-north-end.html

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