March 11 public meeting planned on proposed agreement between City of Sarasota and Bay Park Conservancy for downtown city property

Session set for 4 p.m. at Blue Pagoda Building in downtown Sarasota

(Editor’s note: This article was updated late in the afternoon of March 8 with a link City Manager Tom Barwin provided to the draft of the agreement.)

A graphic shows the conceptual plan for Phase I of The Bay. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Any members of the public interested in the proposed agreement between the City of Sarasota and a nonprofit organization that will manage and raise funds for The Bay project in downtown Sarasota are welcome to attend a meeting set for Monday, March 11, at the Blue Pagoda Building in downtown Sarasota, City Manager Tom Barwin announced this week.

The session will begin at 4 p.m., Barwin said. A draft of the agreement is available through this link, Barwin wrote in his March 8 newsletter.

The Blue Pagoda Building is located at 655 N. Tamiami Trail, near the intersection of U.S. 41 and Boulevard of the Arts.

On Feb. 4, after two city commissioners raised numerous concerns about the “term sheet” that outlined facets of the proposed agreement, the commissioners and representatives of the Bay Park Conservancy agreed to continue their discussion of it until March 18. During that March 18 meeting, the commissioners are scheduled to consider a revised term sheet and a draft of the formal agreement. They also agreed on Feb. 4 that they would work toward approving the formal agreement on April 1.

The Bay Park Conservancy (BPC) is the nonprofit organization that grew out of the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization. The latter entity, led by a volunteer board, worked with a Boston-area firm, Sasaki, to hold numerous meetings and conduct surveys in an effort to learn how the public would like to see 53 acres of city-owned bayfront property utilized. Although much of the land is vacant, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall does stand on one area of the property. A new performing arts venue has been planned as part of The Bay.

With the City Commission in September 2018 having approved the overall master plan for redevelopment of the bayfront, the BPC was foreseen as the entity that would handle the oversight of the property — including scheduling events — after new park and cultural and arts amenities have been created there.

This is a section of the term sheet prepared for the City Commission’s Feb. 4 meeting, as a precursor to the agreement with the Bay Park Conservancy. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

One concern that arose during the Feb. 4 City Commission meeting was that more public money for the project would be sought than previously indicated. Earlier discussions had focused primarily on private fundraising.

Bill Waddill, managing director of the SBPO and now of the Conservancy, did approach the Sarasota County Commission last year about the potential of using tax increment financing to provide a substantial portion of revenue for development of the new amenities. County commissioners indicated a willingness to discuss that, because of the potential of The Bay to provide a big boost to community tourism.

On Tuesday, March 13, a discussion of that request is scheduled as part of the regular County Commission meeting. The session will be held beginning at 9 a.m. in the County Administration Center located at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota, according to The Bay’s website.

With tax increment financing, the tax value of property in a defined area in a specific year is set as the baseline. Then, as the tax value rises in succeeding years, the difference between the value in that initial year and the new value each year is determined, with the resulting tax revenue set aside for a designated purpose.

The Downtown Sarasota Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) operated as a tax increment financing district.

The County Commission agenda for March 13 was not available prior to The Sarasota News Leader’s publication deadline this week.