County commissioners approve $28 million in bonds to help pay for approximately $77.5-million cost of new County Administration Center

Tentatively, closing on bonds expected by late July

On Jan. 31, the Sarasota County commissioners voted unanimously to authorize staff to issue $28 million in bonds to help finance the construction of the new County Administration Center at 6700 Fruitville Road, near the Celery Fields and the Fruitville Public Library.

The facility also will be close to the intersection of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and Apex Road.

Additionally, with the same vote, the board members approved an amendment to the 2023 fiscal year budget to reflect the issuance of the bonds and to incorporate a project expense of $75,105,000.

Nonetheless, a county staff memo included in the Jan. 31 agenda packet pointed out that the $75,105,000 figure does not necessarily represent the full cost of the facility. The memo said that “the final project funding needs will be determined once bids are received. Any additional funds needed will be requested [through] a future Budget Amendment.”

A chart included with the formal resolution regarding the issuance of the bonds shows the estimated total project cost as $77,537,529.

In May 2022, the commissioners authorized County Administrator Jonathan Lewis to execute an agreement with Fawley Bryant Architects of Sarasota for the design and permitting of the new Administration Center. That contract amount was $3,904,000. The same day, the board members also authorized Lewis to execute a $500,211 agreement with Ajax/Tandem Construction of Sarasota to handle preconstruction services for the project.

In late February 2022, the commissioners voted unanimously to approve a land swap with Benderson Development Co., with the county accepting the 9-acre Fruitville Road site for its project and Benderson taking control of approximately 6.8 acres that the county owned near Benderson Park, which is south of University Parkway. Previously, the board members had considered building the new Administration Center on county property located at 1301 Cattlemen Road, near the county’s Emergency Operations Center.

The Jan. 31 staff memo noted that the Administration Center will comprise approximately 120,000 square feet and that it will contain multiple stories. Discussions between staff members and the commissioners have indicated that the building will have four stories.

In November 2021, the commissioners approved selling to Benderson Development the site of the downtown Sarasota County Administration Center, which stands at 1660 Ringling Blvd. The county included in the package two other parcels, on Morrill Street, which are used for parking. Benderson paid $25 million for the property.

County operations will continue in downtown Sarasota until the new Administration Center has been completed. The deal between the county and Benderson called for the county to pay rent of $1 million a year for the three parcels.

The Jan. 31 staff memo noted the expectation that county employees will be able to occupy the new facility on Fruitville Road in December 2025.

The board members agreed several years ago to move county operations out of downtown Sarasota because of staff’s projections of rising costs for renovations and maintenance to keep the building at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in usable condition. In May 2020, that total expense was projected to be about $49 million over the next 20 years.

The bonds the commissioners approved this week will have an amortization period of 20 to 30 years, the staff memo explained. The security for them, it added, will be the county’s half-cent sales tax revenue, while their repayment will come from “general government revenues.” Further, the memo said, “The annual debt service is being established to be lower in the first 5 years [so as] to not impact [the county’s] overall debt coverage ratios [for the half-cent sales tax revenue].”

The total interest payment will average between $2 million and $2.2 million a year, the memo continued.

The staff memo also explained that the marketing of the bonds will be delayed as staff monitors long-term interest rates through the first quarter of the 2023 calendar year. Tentatively, the memo noted, the closing on the bonds is expected to take place by late July. “However,” the memo pointed out, “if market conditions warrant, the bond pricing can be accelerated or deferred as deemed necessary.”