City land leasing overhaul needed says group

Editor & Publisher

Sarasota City Commission meetings were packed numerous times over the last year with residents fighting lease agreements that they say are not in the public interest and neglect the very property the city is expected to steward.

The amount of public land in the city’s holdings is staggering. Currently, there are 255 city-owned real estate parcels of which 51 are leased and have an aggregate value of more than $300 million. That aggregate value is for the 51 lease properties alone.

The problem, according to the Sarasota Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations (CCNA), is that the annual income from the lease parcels is less than $1 million or 1/3 of one percent of the property value.

The CCNA presented the city with a set of recommendations it hopes the commission implements.

CCNA President Carl Shoffstaff wrote in a letter with the report, “Recently several matters concerning publicly owned property have created angry citizen outcry with seemingly no ‘right way’ to vote that would please all parties resulting in less than perfect lease relationships.”

In its report the CCNA attached for the commission found that the city’s current management of public lands and leases is random, not centralized, with many departments having little input and decisions to renew with existing terms, appear to be automatic.

The report also criticized the city for encouraging public/private partnerships of public land to “avoid both management responsibilities and maintenance and capital improvement costs. Thus, creeping privatization of public lands continues.”

The report also said that perhaps leasing the Lido Pavilion to the Girls or Boys Club or YMCA or Senior Friendship Center “might have been a better option than the 2018 potential of creating 238 seats of sit down restaurant and bar use.”

Inequities in what non-profit organizations pay and are allowed to do with the land are rampant. The report says some non-profits can sub-lease their city-owned buildings and do not have to provide sub-lease income.

Also, no long-term fiscal strategy for the acquisition or the land use of any of the public lands exist. Following these conclusions, the CCNA Leasing Committee recommendations include defining any and all public interests and public benefits before any leases are granted and creating a Director of Public Lands and Buildings. Also, it is recommended that standard lease terms and conditions be included in all city leases that favor the city. Numerous other recommendations are made with a focus on identifying a complete inventory of all public land with long-term management strategies as well as funding streams for future land acquisitions.

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