Sarasota wrangles to fund 53-acre ‘The Bay’ project

Editor & Publisher

An axiom in both real estate development and life in general is that planning a vision for the future is often far easier than finding the requisite funding to bring a dream to life. The plan to develop 53 city-owned acres that surround the Van Wezel, into ‘The Bay’ faces the same difficulty.

Although the majority of the money, which will total in the hundreds of millions of dollars, is slated to come from private and philanthropic fundraising, the City of Sarasota and Sarasota County will soon be looking on how to raise taxes as a critical financial component.

To that end, the City and County will examine the creation of a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District. A TIF District, is a public financing method that is used to subsidize redevelopment and other community improvement projects. A TIF allows municipalities to divert future property tax revenues toward such projects without immediately affecting the budget. Such a method allocates future government revenue. It allows bonds to be issued with the future taxes as the pledged revenue source.

Last May, City Commission debated how large an area should comprise the TIF District with Commissioner Willie Shaw arguing that it should include Newtown. He said that many of the workers at The Bay would come from that community and suggested that some of the funds be used for affordable housing.

Other commissioners had additional suggestions on how to use TIF revenue, including spending funds on increased connectivity between the future Bay project and other parks and city amenities.

The development of The Bay project has moved over the past year from concept to tangible plans that were developed by Boston-based design firm Sasaki.  The plan is to create pedestrian access, waterfront parks and amenities, a parking garage, a recreational pier, waterfront eateries, all connected to the downtown core. The City has struggled for decades to implement a plan to redevelop the acreage that stretches north from Boulevard of the Arts to Sarasota Bay Club.

The undertaking has been blessed in concept, and as a plan, by the City but is contingent on the private fundraising as well as additional public funding.

Sarasota County Commissioners were clear when they met last June that any TIF revenue be spent solely on the park and not for additional projects and amenities throughout the city.

An eventuality of The Bay master plan is the construction of a new Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. That component will cost up to $200 million according to the City. The City is hoping the County agrees to use its taxing authority in the creation of a TIF district, to help further fund the project.

The desire by Shaw to use TIF money for affordable housing as well as the suggestion for connectivity projects could set the City on a collision course if the County is adamant that the funds only be spent specifically on The Bay.

The City has said it will take at least two decades to build The Bay project and that the bonds supported by the TIF District would be paid over 25 years.

The City and County have the ability to spend any or all TIF funding on The Bay or other project outside of The Bay. That is why the City attorney, Robert Fournier, said it is critical to have a clear and prioritized agreement specifying each government entities’ contribution.

The Bay Park Conservancy, which is the organization overseeing not only the fundraising but eventual management of The Bay, is led by CEO A.G. Lafley. Lafley suggested to the City Commission that it keep the TIF revenue spending in a limited geographic area.

The specific date of the joint meeting is still pending.

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1 Response for “Sarasota wrangles to fund 53-acre ‘The Bay’ project”

  1. Annie Brooks says:

    Make Bay Park just that… a park where everyone can enjoy the bay! So sick of these “big builders” projects! The area already floods thanks to the overdevelopment! Shade cabanas, grills, walking path, dog park, skateboard park. Something for the entire community.

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