Amid protest, Sarasota approves lease of Lido Beach Pavilion

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The Sarasota City Commission voted against a room overflowing with property owners adamantly opposed to the idea of a lease that will allow a 200-seat restaurant and tiki bar to operate until 10:30 p.m. at the Lido Beach Pool and Pavilion.

The discussion was arduous. It lasted more than five hours and about 45 Sarasota residents and property owners spoke against the lease proposal that commits 2.5 acres of city-owned public property to the control of Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners LLC for 10 years with two additional 10-year options at the sole discretion of the tenant.

The public outcry was mainly manifest with numerous nearby property owners saying it will forever distort and disfigure the quiet residential lifestyle of the neighborhood and will turn a busy family beach into a bar atmosphere.

Others railed against the terms of the lease and accused the city of giving up control of the only city-owned public beach for a below market deal that gives the property away through a process that was ill defined and lacked the protection that would benefit Sarasota taxpayers.

Others were dismayed the same city that has approved thousands of new condominium and hotel rooms would add a major restaurant to the public beach where both present and future residents will visit. They said that the parking is already strained during season at the public beach and that adding a 200 seat restaurant will mean many will simply not find a space because of the addition of a private restaurateur on public property.


Parks Manager offers option

The discussion started last Monday with City Parks Director Jerry Fogle telling the five commissioners that if they didn’t approve the lease, he urged them to spend the $1.25 million in the parks and recreation budget that has already been allocated to the site to fix the restaurants and make some basic improvements to the facility.

“Our residents at least deserve that,” said Fogle.

Fogle then narrated a long history of the events over the past four years that led to the vote that was before the commission.

In short, Lido Key residents had previously pushed the city to undertake basic improvements to the site including repairing the restrooms, fixing the pool and pavilion and adding shade to the tables that fan out in front of the existing concession booth.

The city determined in 2014 that the cost to make these improvements would amount to about $2.9 million. That led the city after allocating $1.2 million to undertake an Invitation To Negotiate (ITN). That process led to one completed application coming from the Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners, which is comprised of Daiquiri Deck owner Gavin Meshad and Sarasota Developer Troy Syprett.

The Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners initially proposed building a full-service restaurant, tiki bar, miniature golf course, splash pad as well as green space where weddings and other private events could be held. The golf curse was subsequently nixed from the proposal.

In return, the group offered to pay the city a starting annual rent of $80,000 with annual escalations. The Partners also says it will spend about $3 million to $4 million making improvements to the restrooms, building out and developing the kitchen and existing structures as well as adding a shade structure over the 200-seat restaurant it plans to open. The group will also operate a tiki bar as well as the pool, the planned splash pad and event space.


Barwin pushes for lease

City Manager Tom Barwin made his case for approval of the lease by saying over the last couple of years “we are lucky to break even on this site.”

Barwin said that if the lease is approved, there are a lot of other places in the city it could spend the $1.25 million that was allocated to fix the site.

Barwin went on to say that the lease scenario represented a $7.5 million savings for taxpayers compared to what the city was currently doing. That number came under debate.

Meshad said he and his partners didn’t come up with an idea for the restaurant, but the idea came from City staff.

Meshad added, “We’re not ever going to make everybody happy.”

That soon became evident when dozens and dozes of residents who had sat for hours used their allotted three minutes to speak against the project.


Resident outcry…

Sarasota resident Martin Hyde said it amounted to a “legacy decision that could place you on a wall of shame.”

Hyde said that the city needed to go back to the bid process because it had only one credible prospect that it was considering.

Kathy Ulrich said she lived near Bobby Jones Golf Course and pointed out that Lido Key residents were not the only ones opposed to the deal.

“Lido Beach has always been our beach of choice. We love the charm it provides. A project of this nature should not be viewed for its fiscal value alone, but with a wider view for all the community, said Ulrich”

Resident Jerry Tate asked the city to create a community and family-friendly environment,

“I don’t want to take my daughter and family to a business oriented environment. It is our only beach and it serves all of the citizens of Sarasota and visiting tourists,” said Tate.

Another man said he was confused on how the City could have gotten to this point and spoke of Lido Beach as the crown jewel of Sarasota.

Local realtor Andrew Vac spoke in favor of the plan, saying it was something that would revitalize “what is in deplorable shape now.”

Another real estate broker said that in her analysis the deal was more than fair to the City and suggested the Redevelopment Partners may be paying too much.

Another resident said that the push by the City “sounds like a ‘back-room’ deal.

A managing partner of Goldman Sachs who happens to be a resident said that the site is arguably the most valuable asset in the city’s portfolio. He pointed out that the lease starts at less than $80,000 per year while a pizzeria on St. Armands Circle is paying $16,000 per month. He suggested that the entire proposal was absurd and ridiculous and that the ITN “has gone off the rails.”

Mark Walsh, owner of the Lido Beach Resort as well as The Sandcastle, said that his family has businesses situated on beachfront sites on both Florida coasts. He said that most communities are taking an aggressive approach to make public beaches and beach parking a priority.

“This proposal cuts against that; it should not be privatized,” said Walsh.

Walsh suggested that the city look to renovate the bathrooms and kitchen. He then pointed out that there were almost 300 restaurants in the city, and only one public beach.

City Parks and Recreation Advisory Board Chair as well as Lido Key resident Carl Shoshtoff said he lived right across from the Lido Beach parking lot and stated that he thought the proposal needed to stop right now.

Sarasota Land Planner Bruce Franklin showed an aerial view depicting a completely full parking lot during the busy season and said, “The impact will be incalculable. I would hope you would terminate this process.”

Former City Commissioner Susan Chapman spoke of the intangible value of remaining an inclusive community.

“Everything in the proposal is a fee for service. This ITN is economic re-segregation. This ITN is a rip-off for citizens,” said Chapman.

Sarasota attorney Dan Lobeck said the lease should not be rushed through and that the city should not be giving away private space to a public party.

“You are asking for trouble. This is not the kind of tenant that will be easy to deal with,” said Lobeck.

Golden Gate Point resident Kathy Altunes described the pavilion and beach as the most important public amenity the City had and described the lease as “A bad deal, a rip-off, a killing for the Daiquiri Deck.”

Altunes asked why the City had a Parks and Recreation Advisory Board if they were not going to be included in the process.


Staff, applicant re-assert case

Applicant Syprett told the City Commission that he and his partners were taking the risk. He said there were no provisions to lower the rent if they don’t hit their numbers.

“I am shocked everyone thinks this is a sweetheart deal,” said Syprett.

Mayor Shellie Freeland Eddie said she was concerned about the level of traffic late at night and asked if they were amenable to limiting the hours. Eddie did not make any motion to change the closing hours and gave up on that point.

At this point in the meeting, things grew somewhat strange and convoluted.

Commissioner Willie Shaw made a motion for the City to spend the $1.25 million it has already allocated to fix up the bathrooms and make repairs. City Attorney Robert Fournier said that Shaw’s motion was out of order and that the issue before them was the lease. He said that if the lease did not receive four affirmative votes, then the Commission could consider alternatives such as fixing the bathrooms on its own.

To that statement, Shaw replied, “We will not ever get to the place where we will be done chasing it around and around. So I took the ladder to get to Mr. Fogle’s recommendation.”


Koch fights alone

Commissioner Jen Ahearn Koch spoke adamantly against leasing the property. She said she did not believe the community wants a restaurant on the site and that the city would receive 46 cents per square foot for the property and that the proposal would choke off public access to the beach and for beach parking.

“The community doesn’t want this and my boss is the community and they tell me they don’t want this,” said Koch.

Commissioner Hagen Brody said he could not disagree more with Koch.

“It’s easy to be against a project like this,” said Brody. Brody added that if it passed, everyone against it would end up enjoying it. He said that he was, “compelled to support it.”

The commission subsequently voted, and commissioners Shaw, Brody, Eddie and Liz Alpert agreed to the plan. Commissioner Koch was the lone vote against the lease agreement.

The lease starts May 1, 2018.

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