‘Get us out of this building,’ county commissioners tell staff, providing direction for pursuit of new administration center in Sarasota 

Site next to Emergency Operations Center, on county property, wins board approval for further exploration

A staff and visitor parking lot across the street from the County Administration Center on Ringling Boulevard affords a rear view of the former GTE facility. News Leader photo

Building on a discussion that was part of their December 2019 retreat, the Sarasota County commissioners have directed county administrative staff to proceed on planning for the relocation of offices from the Administration Center located at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota.

As Commissioner Alan Maio put it on May 21: “Get us out of this building.”

Then, the board members agreed, both the City of Sarasota and the county could look forward to increased property tax revenue as a result of the development of the downtown property — likely as a high-rise condominium complex.

City of Sarasota zoning maps show that the land neighboring the 1660 Ringling Blvd. parcel is zoned Downtown Core, which would allow a 10-story residential structure. The city’s zoning code indicates parking levels underneath the tower would not be included in that count of floors.

This slide offers hypotheticals about the potential sale of the Ringling Boulevard property, leading to construction of a high-rise condominium complex. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The city could be looking at an extra $400,000 a year in ad valorem tax revenue, Deputy County Administrator Steve Botelho told the county commissioners during their first budget workshop of the year, which was conducted on May 21. The county could realize an additional $393,000 in property tax revenue, he said, if a new condominium building comprising 553,620 square feet were constructed on the 125,482 square feet at 1660 Ringling Blvd. Staff based its figures on an average taxable value of $218 per square foot, he pointed out, which was comparable to the value of existing residential structures in that part of downtown Sarasota.

The Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office record for the Ringling Boulevard site says the six-story County Administration building was constructed in 1973 and then renovated in 1990. GTE Florida Inc. sold the property to the county in 1993 for $5,588,000, the Property Appraiser’s Office record shows.

The Property Appraiser’s Office has put the market value of the site at $38.8 million, Botelho noted. “This building has value.”

Moreover, Botelho pointed out, Jeff Lowdermilk, director of the county’s General Services Department staff, and Lowdermilk’s team researched projections for continued maintenance and renovations of the County Administration Center for the next 10 and then the next 20 years. The total for the shorter time frame was put at about $32.5 million, Botelho said. For the 20-year figure, Lowdermilk’s group came up with an estimate of $49 million. Botelho did caution that those were “broad numbers.”

After listening to descriptions of two options for the siting of a new facility outside the city, commissioners offered support for construction on county-owned property at 1301 Cattlemen Road. That would make the new administration complex a neighbor of the county’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

This aerial map shows available land at 1301 Cattlemen Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“Think of the efficiencies if we had this building right now next to our EOC, with what we’re going through,” Commissioner Charles Hines pointed out, referring to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

With that proximity to the EOC, Hines added, staff would not have to spend so much time driving back and forth between the EOC, which has been operating at Level 2 since March 16, with designated staff working there from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. (Level 2 is the partial activation of the county’s emergency response team.) “This is the win, win, win,” Hines said of the 1301 Cattlemen Road site.

On that county property — which encompasses about 278,000 square feet — existing structures comprise 30,000 square feet, Botelho noted during the budget workshop.

The proposed site for the new facility, he continued, would be where a Planning and Development Services Department once stood. It “was knocked down years ago,” Botelho added.

An aerial map shows the property at 101 Cattlement Road, outlined in yellow. Image courtesy Sarasota County

A second option Botelho provided the board for consideration is located at 101 Cattlemen Road. Owned by Cattlemen Road Partners LLC, it has about 2 million square feet of land and 275,000 square feet in existing buildings, Botelho continued. As it is zoned Industrial, Light & Warehousing, he said, it would have to be rezoned for government use.

A Lowe’s Home Improvement store, which stands at 5750 Fruitville Road, is northwest of that site, Botelho noted.

Before the Lowe’s store was built, he explained, some environmental issues about that area were raised. “We know there might be some further due diligence over the environment there, as well,” he added of the 101 Cattlemen Road property.

Delving into more facets of the decision

When Commissioner Nancy Detert asked about the square footage of the building at 1660 Ringling, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis told her it is 170,000 square feet.

How many square feet would be needed for the new facility, Detert then asked.

“We’re looking at different scenarios,” Lewis replied. “If we were to move, it wouldn’t be a 1:1 [model].”

“The city and the county get zero in ad valorem tax right now” from the 1660 Ringling Blvd. property,” Commissioner Maio pointed out.

This section of the City of Sarasota Zoning Code provides details about the Downtown Core (DTC) district. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Considering the heights of residential structures allowed by the city Zoning Code, he continued, and the prospect of a new tower with “multimillion [dollar] condos,” the ad valorem tax revenue income would be “tremendous. … This is a gift that will keep giving.”

“Add to that … the people that will be living here that will bring economic value to Main Street,” Commissioner Hines pointed out. Residents of that new condo complex, he added, would be shopping and dining in downtown Sarasota.

Hines did acknowledge, “When we first started talking about this [relocation from Ringling], people told us, ‘No, don’t leave downtown! That’s crazy!’” Yet, the current Administration Center, he continued, “needs to come down.”

For one thing, Hines pointed out, it is not built to withstand a major hurricane. (That was the primary driver of the decision to build a new EOC; previously, those operations were handled at the Administration Center.)

The community would reap many benefits if the county sold the property, Hines said.

“Before anyone at the city thinks there’s something underhanded,” Maio added, county representatives need to emphasize all the positive factors. “I would love to be on that team … I can’t imagine our [city leaders] would find fault with this, seriously.”

“I think it would stagger them, frankly,” Maio said, if they realized all the positive economic factors.

This is the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office record of property tax values for the 1660 Ringling Blvd. site. Image courtesy Property Appraiser Bill Furst

Among those would be impact fee revenue, County Administrator Lewis noted, referring to that facet of new construction.

Commissioner Christian Ziegler pointed out that close proximity to the EOC also would mean easy access to Interstate 75, which would facilitate South County residents’ ability to reach offices in the new Administration Center.

Then Chair Michael Moran noted the “environment of historically low interest rates and our ability to leverage,” thanks to the continued high bond ratings the county has received from the major rating agencies.

When Moran asked whether Lewis needed any formal vote of the board, Lewis replied, “We just want the ability to keep working.”
“We’re going to proceed,” Deputy County Administrator Botelho added, based on the commissioners’ comments.