Brody bashes Barwin over Mote move

Associate Publisher

In a verbal back and forth that resulted in Sarasota Mayor Shelli Freeland-Eddie using her gavel to regain control of the commission, City Manager Tom Barwin found himself explaining to Commissioner Hagen Brody the reason the commission was left unaware of Mote Marine’s decision to move its aquarium facility to Benderson Park during this week’s city commission meeting.

Brody felt that Barwin should have been aware that Mote was considering leaving the city and informed the commission so the commission could have had time to do something to retain Mote.

“One of the statements that you (Barwin), made that disturbs me is that they ‘haven’t approached you.’ This is a competition to keep the city assets in Sarasota. As a city manager, I fully expect you to insert yourself in these conversations and know when something this big is happening to the economy of Sarasota. I look at this like a failure on our part and we need to figure out what we’re going to do moving forward so that this type of thing doesn’t continue to happen. I’m going to do everything I can to bring them back to the table about being a fixture on the Bayfront for decades to come. When I think about those (currently 300,000 visitors to Mote) 700,000 (projected future number of visitors to Mote) people coming into downtown eating at our restaurants and shopping at our stores, and to see how easily this is dismissed by you Mr. Barwin is very startling,” said Brody.

Barwin stated that Mote Marine had made its decision, and that Dr. Michael Crosby seemed very content with it, and when Crosby originally approached the city commission in Oct. 2014, Mote was asking for a five-acre commitment to be included in the 42-acre Bayfront Plan.

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch also said she remembers Mote asking for a commitment from the city in 2014.

“As far as Bayfront 20/20 goes, all along I was a participant in those discussions. The discussion was that those (businesses) that are there now, have the first right to be there, and then we would entertain anyone else if they could be there or not. They (Mote) were asking for a commitment from the city to be there, to have a foot to be there. Mr. Fournier (city attorney) advised the commission that giving Mote a guarantee could put the city at risk,” said Ahearn-Koch.

But Brody wanted to be clear about his thoughts on what the city manager should be doing and listed his expectations for the city manager’s job.

“You (Barwin) have two very important duties in my mind, and each one is necessary. One is to make sure that the hard functions of the city, utilities, public safety are all functioning smoothly. It is also a requirement, in my mind, that you are advocating and that you have some sort of vision yourself about the future of Sarasota and that you are being proactive in implementing it. The city of Sarasota taxpayers have helped built (Mote) over decades; and to see them now leave the city of Sarasota. I watched the commission meeting from 2014 and you (Barwin) weren’t being completely accurate. They weren’t looking for a commitment they were looking for an endorsement. They were looking for no legal documents, they were looking for ‘Yes we want you in the city of Sarasota; go fundraise.’ The realities of the world we live in, is that we’re competing for these assets. We have to insert ourselves in these conversations, we have to make sure that these organizations are wanted, that we’re clearing a way for them to be here. Or else we’re going to lose them,” said Brody.

Barwin responded to Brody’s accusation of being inaccurate, “The thing I didn’t reference in the minutes of the Oct. 2014 meeting, beyond their (Mote’s) request for the commitment for use of 5 acres, was the third vote by the commission not to bring any more issues regarding the Bayfront Plan before the commission until the Bayfront planning process was completed; and your town staff and manager followed that direction down the center of the road.”

Barwin also cited how there were many moving parts to the process of retaining Mote Marine in the city. Among them was the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization (SBPO), which is currently in the stages of public input meetings. Barwin also suggested that perhaps some places like the Players Theatre were leaving Sarasota because of the successfulness of the West Coast Black Theatre Troupe and others.

“When the Players Theatre was brought to this commission, I don’t remember anybody suggesting we should try to retain them. Within the last few years, the West Coast Black Theatre has grown tremendously, as has the Urbanite Theatre. Sometimes competition is difficult for people to keep up with,” said Barwin.

Barwin and Commissioner Willie Shaw also pointed out that nothing prevents Mote from speaking with the SBPO and asking to be included in the planning process.

“As we always do, if the commission speaks to us differently and tells us tomorrow ‘you put the sales job on Mote’ and add a monetary incentive, then that’s what we’ll do. But that doesn’t even guarantee that’s going to happen, because they are in charge of their destiny and that’s the mature way to look at it,” said Barwin.

But resident Martin Hyde spoke to the commission and agreed with Brody that the commission being left unaware was a failure of the city manager’s office.

“First of all 300,000 visitors is way more than the Baltimore Orioles bring in, so we’re not talking small potatoes. And we don’t need to be mature about getting whooped, which is what happened. So it would appear to be our city management is again asleep at the wheel,” said Hyde.

Brody also grew frustrated with Barwin’s responses to each of the concerns he raised, eventually yelling, “Can you let me finish, please?”

Mayor Freeland-Eddie had to use the gavel to silence the two.

Tensions were also apparent when Brody expressed that he was not comfortable with Barwin’s ability to manage the city, and represent the city alongside commissioners.

“I really don’t have faith that you (Barwin) can reengage them in this discussion, so I’d rather you not at this point. A couple of things that I can’t get you to understand, is that we’re a different commission. The voters chose a different commission for a reason. The fact that Mote a major asset for Sarasota was moving should have been brought up to us either privately if not in the commission meeting. This was a complete shock to me, and I believe it was a shock to you, that’s a problem for me,” said Brody.

When Barwin said he did not meet with Brody because Brody’s schedule was too busy, Brody stated, “I don’t meet with you because I don’t trust you, I want to be clear about that. I don’t want any motion or action from this board. I hope we can bring something back before us that will benefit the city and keep Mote’s aquarium within the city limits.”

Brody made his intentions clear: that he wants to reach out to Mote Marine and try to retain the aquarium in the city.

“My desire and that of others who have reached out to me since they said they were leaving the city for the county, is that we need to do more to keep them in the city of Sarasota,” said Brody.

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1 Response for “Brody bashes Barwin over Mote move”

  1. Suny Gravy says:

    I’m glad Mote is moving. I hope Mote takes their traffic light along with them so that traffic will flow more smoothly to and fro Longboat.

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