City Commission formally OK’s Bay Park Improvement Board decision to put $1.6 million from Bay Park tax-increment financing district into trust fund

Money to be used for construction of amenities on city’s waterfront

This is the tax-increment financing (TIF) district for The Bay Park. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During their regular meeting on April 4, the Sarasota City Commission formally approved the decision of the Bay Park Improvement Board to deposit the Fiscal Year 2022 proceeds from a tax-increment financing (TIF) district into the trust fund established to hold such revenue.

The total estimated amount is $1,614,175, according to a formal city request form for the agenda item.

Deputy Sarasota County Administrator and Chief Financial Management Officer Steve Botelho presented the figure to the Bay Park Improvement Board during its March 22 meeting, the form noted. The figure is “subject to final property values” for the 2022 fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2021, the form added.

The board governs the development of The Bay Park on 53 city-owned waterfront acres in downtown Sarasota. No amenities for the park can be constructed without the board’s approval.

In late 2020, when the City and County commissions approved the TIF district, staff with the county’s Office of Financial Management estimated that the tax increment from that district for the 2022 fiscal year would total $615,882. The actual revenue is close to two-and-two-thirds higher than that.

When the City and County commissions voted on the necessary interlocal agreement to establish the TIF district for The Bay Park, they set Jan. 1, 2019 as the base year for value of the property within that district. Every year that the property value goes up in that district, both city staff and county staff determine how much property tax revenue would derive from the application of each local government’s millage rate to the new value. Then, the funds calculated are set aside in a trust fund that will pay for amenities in the park.

This chart, presented to the County Commission in January 2020, shows the estimated increases in the value of the land within the TIF district over the 30-year life of the agreement between the City and County commissions to fund construction at The Bay Park. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Section 7(h) of that interlocal agreement also says that a proposed budget must be approved annually for any of the money in the trust fund to be used for construction in The Bay Park, the City Commission agenda form explained. That budget must be presented to both the Bay Park Improvement Board and the City Commission for approval “on or before May 1 of each year,” the form says.

No amenities have been proposed for this fiscal year, the form adds; therefore, the Bay Park Improvement Board voted unanimously to put the money into the trust fund.

The members of that board are City Commissioners Liz Alpert and Hagen Brody, County Commissioners Nancy Detert and Christian Ziegler, and Jon Thaxton, vice president of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, which is based in Venice. A former county commissioner, Thaxton long has been an advocate for the park, especially because of the environmental facets of the plans for it.

This is a scene from the Mangrove Bayou Walkway. Image from the Bay Park Conservancy

In its 2021 annual report, the Bay Park Conservancy — the nonprofit charged with overseeing the development of the facilities and managing them — noted that new park features include the Mangrove Bayou Walkway, which opened in the spring of 2021, and the Civic Green, which opened in the summer of 2021.

City Finance Director Kelly Strickland told the city commissioners on April 4 that state economic officials have projected city property values will rise 8% this year. The Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office must release the preliminary data by June 1 and then the final figures by July 1, to comply with state law.

Altogether, in 2020, county staff estimated that close to $200 million would be raised by the Bay Park TIF plan over its 30-year life.

The TIF District for the park covers not just the 53 acres but surrounding areas, as well, where new development has been underway.

The TIF funds item was included on the City Commission’s first Consent Agenda of routine business matters on April 4. None of the board members pulled it for comment ahead of the unanimous vote approving that Consent Agenda.