City Bayfront Plan needs far more review

Guest Columnist

Sarasota City commissioners are giving away control of an unparalleled asset — 53 acres of one of America’s prized waterfront parcels — for parking meter change.Why the rush to do this project?

Don’t wreck what we’re satisfied with.

The commissioners are potentially walking into an unknown business quagmire pitted with a multitude of political and funding obstacles.

Why should the city pay, invest or lend cash going forward?

Think about it. The land is conservatively worth, as is, $530,000,000, to a deep-pocketed company/mortgage bank/investor. There’s’ a precedent number of $10,000,000 per acre for valuation that’s’ verifiable. Cash investors exist and the parcel has never been marketed.

A half of billion dollars, $530,000,000, is the only City partnership contribution that should be made, period. No infrastructure, future expenses, cash calls, maintenance, subsidies or anything else. That would be a Goldman Sachs negotiating stance if it were to represent the City of Sarasota.

It’s a straight-up land lease with the City controlling all construction phases, density, building volume, code, etc. This is the staff’s job that they do best, not determining a business partner.

You are allowing the city manager and staff bureaucrats to create terms, establish long-term parameters plus legally binding preliminary agreements without strategic thinking and having knowledgeable business acumen. Yes, it meets zoning guidelines and code, etc., but where’s the cash? It’s in the city’s pocket. There is a great probability based on empirical business studies the city will be left with a costly entanglement.

Ask a banker whose fiduciary duty it is to protect a city asset if would they be a comfortable lender with the proposed term sheet guided by the Conservancy?

It’s up to the developers and visionaries to have short and long-term investment funds plus operating capital. If they do not at the time of a contract signing, their dreams will not adequately perform, adversely subjected to market fluctuations, equity challenges plus lending rate changes.

The City of Sarasota should not be the dreamer’s bank, that’s a Morgan Stanley Investment Bank function.

The City in this one development is acting as land leaseholders, code enforcers, investors and lenders. Way too many conflicting hats for one project. That’s what’s really going to be asked for.

Remember history: any time the city has partnered or try to partner or act as a landlord, with any for-profit entity, they have come up short.

The city is even giving up more.

There is no off-site plan for upgraded and new road infrastructure to accommodate increased traffic volume from all directions. The existing road systems are saturated. Future traffic circles do not improve the issue. This has to be considered first before any approved Conservancy project. This project will intensify traffic woes all the way to Longboat Key.

Forward thinking, the city is giving up the only site they control for a third bridge to Longboat Key. This bridge will have to be built; it’s the only viable realistic solution to a rapidly degenerating road system. This is a project that should be Sarasota’s and Longboat Key’s paramount government priority. Nothing is more important, not another 53-acre planned urban development. Already overwhelming traffic negatively impacts lifestyle.

Sarasota citizens are frustrated choking on approved development projects. However, alleviating the bayfront through traffic will catalyze the Downtown and the bayfront to achieve an unparalleled quality of life, the envy of America. It takes a new bridge. Increased quality tourism will be enhanced.

To pause these Conservancy plans now until these citizen concerns are addressed and a strategic plan created before construction is allowed, would be very wise.

Another choice is if an authentic resident poll including citizens east of US-41 was taken, most citizens would be happy to leave the 53 acres the way it is. Possibly a simple enlarged green park or improved boat landings would be acceptable and that’s it. Keep it simple. Quality understatement always is a good rule to guide by.

Or would it be wise to sell the 53 fantastic rare waterfront acres for $530,000,000 for city-wide infrastructure projects, collect future property tax dollars, leave land for a bridge and landing and have no ongoing time-consuming controversies? It could be done. Most likely an easier endeavor then the new Bay proposal proposition.

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