City backs Bay Park’s waterfront funding plan

Editor & Publisher

The future of Sarasota’s Bayfront is moving far past the planning stages now that the City has approved about $190 million for development of the 53-acre Bay Park.

The City unanimously supported Tax-Increment Financing (TIF) last month, and now the County Commission is slated on Nov. 4 to discuss the matter at a public hearing.

The Bay is an overall master plan that will combine the public monies generated by the TIF, with private donations that will recreate city-owned land that stretches from Boulevard of the Arts along the Bayfront to North of 10th Street and includes the Van Wezel and the Municipal Auditorium as well as the current site of the Sarasota Orchestra.

The project has been years in planning and after numerous public meetings the land planning and design firm, Sasaki, worked with the community and the Bay Conservancy, the organization overseeing the plan to bring a proposal that has been embraced and approved by the City.

Sarasota Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch and the commissioners sought to add inclusion of language to support multi-modal transportation connectivity from Bay Park to Downtown Sarasota. The commission was warned by the City Attorney that the County is remiss to approve any TIF funding mechanism that will divert any dollars outside of The Bay project and its geographical boundaries. In other words, the commission needs to be careful not to add language that could move money out of the TIF District and into the City at large. The move for additional connectivity and the insertion of language to support such an effort did not gain traction and the idea died away.

The proposed TIF financial projections is based on no changes in millage rates on property taxes, but an average growth in property values in six to eight percent for the first 10 years of the 30-year agreement. The payments escalate from about $100,000 each in fiscal year 2021 from both the City and County, to about $2 million each in fiscal year 2029 and about $7 million each in fiscal year 2049. In short, the payments continually rise each year of the agreement.

The money generated by the assumed escalation of all property values within the TIF District is what ultimately will compose the public financing portion of The Bay.

Taxes generated by the increase in values in the TIF District will be used exclusively in the District. The mechanism is often used for redevelopment projects and keeps the money in a geographical and focused location rather than dispersing it throughout the city and county.

Currently, Phase I of the project is underway and is at an estimated cost of $25 million and will improve the south portion of the property between the Van Wezel and Boulevard of the Arts.

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