County commissioner voices vexation over City of Sarasota’s delay in construction of parking lot on former Sarasota Police Department site

Engineering specs being finalized before advertisement for bids, city representative says

A July engineering drawing shows plans for the Judicial Parking Lot on Ringling Boulevard in downtown Sarasota. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Although the City of Sarasota’s Development Review Committee (DRC) addressed the plans in early July, it could be late spring before a long-planned parking lot is created on the former site of the Sarasota Police Department headquarters in downtown Sarasota.

Questions about the timeline arose as the Sarasota County Commission approached the end of its nearly six-hour retreat on Dec. 13.

During a discussion about public parking spaces in downtown Sarasota, Chair Charles Hines asked about the status of the city project, which the County Commission is helping fund upfront.

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.

With the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections’ main office located in the Terrace Building in downtown Sarasota, public demand for parking spaces increases considerably during the early voting period, the county’s constitutional officers have stressed to the commission.

“Yes, sir,” County Administrator Jonathan Lewis replied to Hines’ remark.

Then with a laugh, Hines called out, “Karen, if you or anyone else in [the Sarasota County Clerk of Court’s] building hears me, go to the City of Sarasota and scream at them, please, because we’ve been screaming at them, and [the situation is] ridiculous.”

Chair Charles Hines. File photo

Hines was referring to Karen Rushing, clerk of the Circuit Court and county comptroller, who has complained numerous times in the past to the commissioners about the insufficiency of public parking options in the Judicial District.

Lewis did note during the retreat that Jeff Lowdermilk, director of the county’s General Services Department, and his staff had undertaken comprehensive audits of the parking situation in downtown Sarasota’s Judicial District. Between the spaces in the county’s garage, located at the intersection of Ringling Boulevard and School Avenue, and surface lots, Lewis said, “The audits indicate that there’s availability …”

The relocation about two years ago of much of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office staff to a new headquarters on Cattleridge Boulevard opened up more spaces, too, Lewis noted.

Still, Lewis told Hines, “We’ll do whatever you want on this.”

A longstanding focus of concerns

During the County Commission’s budget workshops in June, county Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates raised the parking issue once more, as well.

After the state required all tax collector’s offices to take over driver’s license work, beginning in 2015, more people have been heading to Ford-Coates’ downtown office in the Terrace Building, which stands to the west of the Silvertooth Judicial Center.

She told the commissioners in late June that parking needs at the Terrace Building were up 15% since she closed the Pompano Avenue facility where people once had to go for driving tests. That closure came after the new Mid-County Tax Collector’s Office opened on Sawyer Loop Road on April 30, 2018, she noted.

The Terrace Building also is home to the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office.

The site of the former Sarasota Police Department has stood vacant on Ringling Boulevard since 2012. File photo

“I know your staff is trying to work on this, mainly with the City [of Sarasota],” Ford-Coates added. “We hope that it continues to be a priority, please.”

After that discussion in June, Jan Thornburg, senior communications manager for the City of Sarasota, told The Sarasota News Leader that the proposal for the new Ringling Boulevard parking lot was to be considered by the city’s DRC on July 3. The members of that group are leaders of the various city departments that play a role in new construction. DRC discussions usually allow applicants to learn about potential issues they will need to address before their plans can proceed to hearings before the Planning Board and City Commission.

When the News Leader contacted Thornburg this week, to follow up on the County Commission’s Dec. 13 discussion, Thornburg wrote in a Dec. 18 email that the DRC did indeed hear the proposal on July 3.

She added, “Currently, the engineering specs for the project are being finalized before it’s put out to bid for construction.

That’s as much as I can share at this time with the project coordinator out of the office.”

The parking lot long has been a figurative “sore spot” for the county commissioners. It was a facet of a 2003 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that former County Administrator Jim Ley worked out with city leaders in a deal to keep county government offices in downtown Sarasota.

An aerial view shows the former Sarasota Police Department property on Ringling Boulevard, just north of the new department headquarters on Adams Lane. Image from Google Maps

Under the terms of that MOU, the parking lot site was to have been transferred to the county. In March 2015, City Attorney Robert Fournier asserted in a memo to city leaders that the property should remain with the city. He attributed that view to the fact that county leaders never followed through on some of the plans they promised in the MOU.

Then, in March of this year, as part of a settlement of an approximately two-year-long dispute between the city and the county over a final payment from the county into the Downtown Sarasota Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) Trust Fund, the county agreed to pay up to $200,000 to assist with the construction of the Judicial Parking Lot. City staff estimated the overall cost at $400,000.

After the surface lot has been completed, according to the CRA settlement resolution the two commissions approved, the city “shall charge market rates” for parking in the lot. Then, within 30 days of the end of each calendar quarter, the city is to pay the county half the gross revenue generated by the paid parking program. Those payments are to end after the city has reimbursed the county for its share of the construction cost for the lot.

The agreement added that the city would have sole responsibility for the maintenance and operation of the parking area.

Further, the city is to designate three of the spaces for “exclusive use of Sarasota County” and provide signage to that effect. However, the city may charge the county for parking permits for those spaces, the agreement noted.

More details about the parking lot plans

This is a graphic included in the packet for the city’s Development Review Committee on July 3. Image courtesy City of Sarasota
This is the legend for the parking lot graphic. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

The project narrative provided to the DRC in July said the following about the downtown project: “The proposed Judicial Parking Lot … will provide additional parking accommodations for the adjacent government buildings, and generate parking revenue for the City of Sarasota. The project area lies within a 0.65-acre parcel located approximately 300-feet west of the intersection of Ringling Boulevard and East Avenue, and is located in and owned by the City of Sarasota.”

The lot is to have 48 parking spaces, including two for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility, as well as one for electric vehicle charging, the narrative noted.

“In addition, and as requested by the City Parking Division,” two pay stations and two bicycle racks are planned for the lot. “Landscaping buffer, type, and size of plantings, as well as irrigation have been included in the design per City requirements,” the narrative continued. “Every effort was made to create as much greenspace as possible while maximizing the number of parking spaces. Lighting for the parking lot meets City requirements,” the narrative added.

Vehicular ingress and egress will be provided “via a single entrance and exit on the western side of the parcel,” the narrative said. The lot will “connect to existing streets/alleys without modification to traffic patterns. Signage has been [planned] to identify the lot and to direct traffic.”

Further, the narrative pointed out, “Pedestrian connectivity has been provided” from three of the four corners of the lot to existing sidewalks; crosswalk markings will be included in the project.

City Transportation staff members had a number of comments about the proposal, as noted in the backup agenda material for the DRC meeting. The following were among their points:

  • “The project does not propose any structures or trip generating uses. Therefore, a traffic review will not be required.”
  • Bike racks must be standard “U” racks or the equivalent.
  • In accord with downtown greenspace policies, all trees in the public right of way will be canopy species.
  • The project team must confirm the width of the existing sidewalk along Ringling Boulevard. “Sidewalk must be at least 8 feet wide,” the comments note.
  • The curb cut onto Ringling Boulevard at the northeast corner of property must be removed, and new concrete must be poured to modify the sidewalk to compensate for that.
  • Additional parallel parking spaces in front of the parcel must have appropriate signage and striping.