Maio signs sale and lease agreement with Benderson Development for County Administration Center parcels in downtown Sarasota

$25-million deal concludes before end of 2021

The Sarasota County Administration Center that stands at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota was constructed in 1973. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On Nov. 15, Matt Osterhoudt, director of the Sarasota County Planning and Development Services Department, told the county commissioners that if they voted that day to sell the County Administration Center property in downtown Sarasota to Benderson Development, he expected the transaction to conclude by the end of 2021.

The board members unanimously agreed to the company’s $25-million offer, which included the provision that the county could lease the parcels on Ringling Boulevard and Morrill Street until a new administration center has been completed on county property at 1301 Cattlemen Road.

On Dec. 30, 2021, Osterhoudt’s confidence was proven to have been well founded: Commission Chair Alan Maio signed the sale and lease documents.

The county will pay Benderson $1 million per year for the lease.

Additionally, after Commissioner Nancy Detert argued that, as the landlord, the company should be responsible for any major repairs to the Administration Center while the county was a tenant, Benderson said that it would do so.

In December 2019, during their annual retreat, the commissioners made it clear to administrative staff that they wanted a new facility. Their decision was predicated on staff estimates that continued maintenance and renovations of the County Administration Center at 1660 Ringling Blvd. could cost as much as $49 million over the next 20 years.

These are the maintenance and renovation estimates for the building at 1660 Ringling Blvd., as presented to the commissioners in May 2020 Image courtesy Sarasota County

Nonetheless, Detert initially balked at Benderson’s $25-million offer for the property. She contended that the county should be able to get a far higher price because of the value of the land in downtown Sarasota.

In discussions about the property in 2020, then-Commissioner Charles Hines had talked of his vision of a new condominium complex on the site, with residents able to walk easily to shops, restaurants and other amenities in the area. The Ringing Boulevard site is in an area zoned Downtown Core in the City of Sarasota.

The City of Sarasota’s Zoning Code says that residential dwellings on parcels designated Downtown Core may have a maximum density of 50 dwelling units per acre. The Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s website says the 1660 Ringling Blvd. parcel encompasses 2.88 acres.

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

Generally, building height is limited to 10 stories in the Downtown Core, the city zoning code adds.

In response to Detert’s concerns in 2021, Chair Maio pointed out that going through a rezoning process with the City of Sarasota could take several years — with the county still having to contend with the rising costs of maintenance and repairs to keep operations in place in downtown Sarasota.

Before the Nov. 15, 2021 vote to approve the sale to Benderson, Maio pointed out that, for example a leak on the sixth floor of the County Administration Center had necessitated staff action so the water could be collected by a hose, which drained into what he described as giant containers.

The building dates to 1973. It was owned by GTE Florida Inc. in Hillsborough County.

In deciding to approve the sale to Benderson, Detert finally told her colleagues, “This is the best offer we’ve received. I’m happy to support it.”

Six companies had responded to a July 19, 2021 Invitation to Negotiate (ITN) for the three parcels. Osterhoudt of Planning and Development had pointed out to the board members that the Benderson package was the best of them, based on a number of factors. However, after a commission discussion in early September 2021, Benderson raised its initial offer from $20 million to $25 million.

The highest offer the county received at the outset was $23.5 million from The Seng Co. of DeKalb County, Ga., and Weaver Capital Partners.

This graphic shows the Administration Center property at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in Sarasota and the two parcels on Morrill St. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The other downtown Sarasota parcels that Benderson bought from the county are located at 1646 Morrill St. and 1703 Morrill St. They provide parking spaces for county employees and the public.

County staff is expected to continue using the property for approximately four years, according to the timeline that Carolyn Eastwood, director of the Capital Projects Department, has outlined for construction of the new Administration Center in North County.

This is a concept plan for the new administration center at 1301 Cattlemen Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County