County staff authorized to take next steps in process to vacate County Administration Center in Sarasota

Sweet Sparkman Architects to assist staff with spacing and functionality requirements for new facility; decision about location to be decided later

The county Administration Center is located at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota. File photo

On a unanimous vote this week, the Sarasota County Commission approved a $174,000 contract with Sweet Sparkman Architects of Sarasota to work with the county’s Capital Projects staff on details related to construction of a new county Administration Center.

With Chair Michael Moran absent because of a family emergency, the vote was 4-0.

Additionally, commissioners offered support for County Administrator Jonathan Lewis and his staff to conduct discussions with Stock Development on an unsolicited proposal submitted to staff for a new, 200,000-square-foot facility the firm could construct on 6 vacant acres in the northeast quadrant of Fruitville Road and Interstate 75. Stock Development did not provide any pricing details, Carolyn Eastwood, director of the Capital Projects Department, told the board members on Sept. 23.

Stock Development’s website says the firm, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, is “one of the region’s most innovative and dynamic real estate companies.” Its corporate office is in Naples.

The site Stock Development proposed, Eastwood noted, “is pretty much adjacent to the northbound on-ramp of I-75.”

Lewis indicated that no board vote was necessary in regard to his talking with company representatives, as he already has such authority in accord with his job description.

In response to a question from Commissioner Nancy Detert, Eastwood said of the Stock Development proposal, “It’s just a little premature for us to be having deep-dive discussions with them,” before Sweet Sparkman completes the initial steps in its contract.

Eastwood also provided a map for the board members to consider the area of the county on which staff should focus for construction of a facility to replace the building at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota. The northern boundary was in the vicinity of Richardson Road, just north of Fruitville Road, she said, while the southern boundary was just south of Laurel Road. The eastern and western boundaries, she noted, were within approximately 2 miles of each side of Interstate 75.

However, at Commissioner Charles Hines’ suggestion, the board members agreed to spend more time on that decision during a later meeting.

He also reminded his colleagues and Eastwood about the “money that we waste on this [Ringling Boulevard] building,  [which] is never going to be right,” given the need for a new roof and windows to make it significantly more hurricane-resistant.

These are the maintenance and renovation estimates for the building at 1660 Ringling Blvd. Image courtesy Sarasota County

(Several years ago, commissioners agreed to the construction of the new Emergency Operations Center on county-owned property on Cattlemen Road because of the vulnerability of the Ringling Boulevard structure. The sixth floor of the downtown Sarasota building had served as the Emergency Operations Center.)

Hines further noted “all of the lost revenue that this property could bring to the City of Sarasota and Sarasota County.” During the previous discussion with staff on the topic— in late May — Hines emphasized the potential for a new residential complex on the site of the Ringling Boulevard structure. That would generate not only more property tax revenue for the city and the county, Hines said, but it also would boost businesses in the city, as residents would be able to walk to restaurants and other businesses.

“We gotta go,” Hines stressed on Sept. 23, referring to a slide Eastwood showed the board members — which they also saw in May — noting the potential expenses for maintenance and renovations of the Sarasota center for up to 20 more years.

During the discussion, Commissioner Nancy Detert pointed out that the building is “technically a teardown,” which meant that any investment the board made in it would be lost when the county sold the property.

(During the board’s May 21 budget workshop, staff estimated $32.5 million for 10 years of continued maintenance and renovations; for 20 years, the total was put at $49 million, if the structure were to remain in government use.)

Most likely, Detert said, a condominium complex would be constructed on the site.

The estimated taxable value of the property in private, instead of government, ownership, was $120.5 million, according to a slide the board saw in May. If the parcel were put back on the tax rolls, the slide said, the City of Sarasota’s annual tax revenue from it would be about $400,000, while the county could be expected to reap about $393,000 a year.

These are the property tax values for 1660 Ringling Blvd., through this year. Image courtesy Sarasota County Property Appraiser Bill Furst

Future needs

Eastwood also explained on Sept. 23 that staff already has been talking with representatives of Sweet Sparkman about the firm’s initial work assignments, in the event the commission approved the contract that day. Among the those initial efforts, she said, would be determining how much space would be needed in a new Administration Center and “which departments might go into it.” Potentially, she continued, not every department with offices at 1660 Ringling Blvd. would be relocated to the new facility.

Further, Eastwood noted, Sweet Sparkman would be asked to focus on the functional effectiveness of the new building, looking as far as 20 years into the future. “That’s really the big picture,” she added.

A Sept. 23 staff memo explained that that process would entail how to integrate “emerging technologies used in government and include recommendations on such things as understanding how constituents can be better served, opportunities for efficiently shared spaces, considerations for remote employee ‘e-Work’ and the like.”

Given the health of the county’s real estate market, Hines told Eastwood, “I want to get you all moving forward” on that effort.

These are details about the proposal Stock Development provided county staff, in regard to construction of a new Administration Center on Sarasota property it owns. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Asked how long that work would take, Eastwood replied that the space needs evaluation could be accomplished in “roughly, about 60 days.” Then another 60 days likely would be necessary for Sweet Sparkman to create what Eastman indicated in a slide would be the “‘high level’ organizational options/models” focusing on the functional effectiveness of the new building. Those models, the slide added, would “use real and/or hypothetical sites to test the options.”

“We can try to do some overlap” of those tasks, Eastwood said. Still, she conceded, “It may be a little more than 60 days.”

After Sweet Sparkman finishes its initial assignments, Hines added, then the commissioners “can pick a viable spot” for the new Administration Center.

“I agree with Commissioner Hines,” Detert said, noting that all staff was seeking that day was a vote on the Sweet Sparkman contract. She was fully in support of that, she added, and then made the motion for its approval.

Commissioner Christian Ziegler seconded the motion.

This is a view of the Stock Development site, included in the firm’s proposal. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“Sweet Sparkman has always acquitted themselves well,” Commissioner Alan Maio pointed out, noting that the firm designed the renovations at Siesta Beach Park, which were completed in early 2016.

Eastwood also noted that staff has not identified any funding for the new Administration Center. However, Maio told her the board members did not need to be reminded of that. “The money is entirely our problem,” he added. “Five people in our county. It’s our problem.”

Site options

After Eastwood presented the slide showing the area of the county that staff proposed as the focus for the new facility, Commissioner Ziegler talked again — as he did in late May — about the “unique opportunity … to partner with the [Sarasota County] School Board” on a site. He noted that the property at The Landings in Sarasota that is home to the School Board’s administrative offices is west of Tamiami Trail and, therefore, likely to be “worth a fortune.”

Combining the two administrative centers into one complex, Ziegler added, would bring together individuals with “good jobs” who would be “consistent tenants.” As a result, he said, building a new facility for them in a vacant area holds the promise of retail businesses and restaurateurs constructing businesses in that same area, to serve those employees.

This is the map showing the area staff has proposed for consideration in determining where the new Administration Center will be located. Image courtesy Sarasota County

He added that he believes a site in the vicinity of State Road 681 would be a more central location for county services. Moreover, he said, “There’s not a lot of … retail or commercial there.”

“There’s a real opportunity in that location to do something special,” Ziegler stressed. “I hope we’re looking bigger than just … moving our building.”

Detert told Eastwood that she wished staff had extended its southern boundary on the map “all the way to North Port” and then tried to find the “mid-zone.”

North Port, Detert continued, has become the largest city in the county, “so a lot of people need our services.” Making it necessary for them to go to “the top of the county,” she said, “is unrealistic.”

However, Commissioner Hines pointed to the improvements underway at the county’s R.L. Anderson Administration Center at 4000 S. Tamiami Trail in Venice. (Along with new courthouse space, the project entails work on spaces for county offices, including Planning and Development Services, which issues construction permits and provides construction inspections.)

This graphic shows the location of the R.L. Anderson Administration Center. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Anderson facility, he continued, is close to residents in Venice, Englewood and North Port.

In his view, Hines said, the area around State Road 681 is “just too far south. It makes more sense, he added, to have a North County administration center, along with the R.L. Anderson Center.

“I would draw a line at Bee Ridge [Road] and leave the [northern boundary] where it is.”

Then Hines reprised comments he has made about the potential synergy resulting from construction of the new North County administration center near the county’s Emergency Operations Center on Cattlemen Road and the Sheriff’s Office’s headquarters on Cattleridge Boulevard.

Commissioner Maio also pointed out that the commissioners often are reminded that they are “not allowed to get involved in anything to do with [county] personnel.” Nonetheless, he suggested to Eastwood that staff research where county employees who work at the downtown Sarasota facility live. “We don’t want to make a mass problem.”