City to repay county’s $200,000 contribution to undertaking as city collects fees for use of facility
In March 2019, the Sarasota City and County commissions finally approved a settlement of a years-long dispute over the county’s final payment into the Downtown Sarasota Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) Trust Fund.
Part of that agreement called for the county to cooperate with the city in creating a parking lot with an estimated 48 spaces on the Ringling Boulevard property in downtown Sarasota where the Sarasota Police Department headquarters formerly stood. The County Commission agreed to put up $200,000, which city staff expected to cover half the $400,000 expense of the project.
City staff also indicated that work on that project would be underway later that year.
In February 2019, Jan Thornburg, senior communications manager for the city, told The Sarasota News Leader that staff had met on the site with representatives of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, who had determined that the stormwater capacity would need to be enhanced first.
Then, in December 2019, when the County Commission was conducting its annual retreat, then-Commissioner Charles Hines asked about the status of the initiative. Deputy County Administrator Steve Botelho replied that the last he had heard from city staff was “Maybe late spring” would be when the construction would get underway.
“Let’s remind the City of Sarasota, please, that there’s an election this year … and it’s not for us to take the heat, when they promised to build that parking lot right there for multiple years,” Hines responded.
Subsequent to that discussion, the News Leader again contacted Thornburg, who reported in a Dec. 18, 2019 email, “Currently, the engineering specs for the project are being finalized before it’s put out to bid for construction.”
Slightly more than three months later, the first COVID-19 cases in Florida were identified. Both the City and County commissions agreed soon thereafter to pauses in spending, with concerns that the pandemic would have a significant, negative impact on state and local finances.
Finally, what has been dubbed the Judicial Parking Lot will be getting underway soon, thanks to a unanimous vote of the City Commission on July 19.
As part of their Consent Agenda No. 1 of routine business matters, the commissioners approved a $405,767.56 contract with Spectrum Underground of Sarasota to undertake the work.
The company was one of only two bidders, according to a memo from Public Works Director Doug Jeffcoat to the City Commission. The other was Stellar Development of Sarasota, he noted, pointing out that Spectrum Underground’s bid was the lower one.
The initiative will include construction of 48 parking spaces, “stormwater quality devices, landscaping, lighting and an [electric vehicle] charging station,” Jeffcoat added in the memo.
City Communications Specialist Jason Bartolone told the News Leader in a July 20 email that the project is scheduled to begin on Sept. 1. “We expect final completion, barring any unforeseen circumstances, during the first week of December,” he added.
Prior to the pandemic, both Karen Rushing, Sarasota County clerk of the Circuit Court and county comptroller, and Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates had expressed on numerous occasions to the county commissioners their need for extra parking spaces in the Judicial District, near their officers in the Historic County Courthouse and the Terrace Building, respectively.
Included in the City Commission’s agenda packet for the July 19 meeting was a copy of the March 12, 2019 interlocal agreement with the County Commission for the parking lot project. That document noted that the vacant parcel where the facility will be constructed is “located on the south side of Ringling Boulevard in downtown Sarasota,” to the east of the county-owned Judge Lynn N. Silvertooth Judicial Center.
The agreement also pointed out that, after the project has been completed, the city will charge market rates for use of the parking lot. Then, within 30 days after the end of each calendar quarter, the city is to pay the county half the gross revenue produced by the facility. “Said payments shall be made on a quarterly basis until [the city] has reimbursed [the county]” for its $200,000 contribution, the document said.
Public Works Director Jeffcoat’s memo in the July 19 agenda packet said that even though the bid award was slightly more than $400,000, the county would contribute no more than $200,000.