City Commission approves process to solicit developer concepts for the property, which is located on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way
The Marian Anderson Place property on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way, just east of U.S. 301 in Sarasota, has been tarnished by a literally trashy past and failed attempts to bring economic stimulus to north Sarasota.
In the 1960s, it served as a city dump. Later, it was declared contaminated. Then in 2005, it became the site of a failed Walmart store proposal. The mega retailer abandoned its plans after voters approved a minimum wage increase in Sarasota. Four years later, the city unsuccessfully issued an Invitation to Negotiate (ITN) for the property, and although about 75 inquiries were made, the city did not receive any proposals.
Now, in the wake of a strengthening real estate market, city leaders say the 13-acre parcel holds significant economic promise and that the timing is right for another attempt to spur development there.
Over the past several years, the city has worked with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to successfully clean the groundwater on the site through a system of wells and pits. Over the past 18 months, the contamination level was reduced to the point at which the FDEP could issue a closure order, deeming the parcel cleaned.
“The property has now changed in terms of the [environmental] cleanup, and the fact that the market has changed,” Lorna Alston, general manager of the Newtown-North Sarasota Redevelopment Division, told the city commissioners during their meeting on Monday, March 7. “We would anticipate that the results [from a request for development proposals] would be different.”
In response, the commissioners unanimously voted to move forward with issuing a second Invitation to Negotiate (ITN), allowing developers to submit ideas about how they would use the vacant land. The property is viewed as a blank slate for growth in the heart of Newtown. City leaders say transferring the parcel to a developer would result in jobs; an economic stimulus for that part of the city; and more ad valorem tax revenue, thanks to getting the property on the tax roll. The latter move also would increase the benefit to the Newtown Community Redevelopment Area (CRA).
During Monday’s meeting, the commissioners ultimately chose the ITN process instead of attempting to market the property itself or opting to build an incubator facility on it. Commissioners said the latter concept, though worthwhile, involved too much risk for the city.
Commissioner Liz Alpert pointed out that the call for proposals would provide interested developers flexibility in submitting their ideas and give the city “more control over what ends up on the site than if we sold it outright.”
But she also said she wants the City Commission to remain open to a plan for an incubator in the future at another location if the opportunity arises. Commissioner Shellie Freeland Eddie agreed that such a project should be considered at some point.
One developer, Urban America, has already shown interest in the Marian Anderson site; its representatives were present at the meeting Monday. On behalf of its client, New Direction Community Development Corp., Urban America already had submitted a letter on Jan. 28 to City Manager Tom Barwin. The letter says, “[The] Urban America team has convened several community meetings with area stakeholders and our architects have visited the property. We are in the process of preparing a full development proposal to be presented to the city shortly.”
During Monday’s meeting, Keith DuBose, representing Urban America, said the firm is willing to participate in the ITN process. “We are open to competing with the world for this property, and we think it is a fabulous opportunity,” DuBose told the commissioners.
Alpert said she believes that before the commission settles on a developer, interested firms should have representatives talk with stakeholders in the north Sarasota community to win support for the projects they propose.
Available incentives, and a footnote
More than $1.42 million in incentives — including tax-increment and sales tax options — is available to a developer on the site, at the City Commission’s discretion, City Attorney Robert Fournier told the board.
It would cost about $1.2 million to add the necessary utilities and other upgrades to make the property ready for construction, according to city backup agenda materials. The $1.42 million can be used as an incentive to a developer or to complete some of the utility and site preparation work, said Alston.
The site has been appraised at $1.725 million, as is, but that value would increase after water and sewer infrastructure — plus road access — are added, city documents note.
The commissioners also discussed an environmental footnote. Freeland Eddie and Alpert concurred that it is important to ensure the city will not be held responsible for any future environmental remediation, if such action is required. Fournier said that stipulation could be included in discussions with the finalists chosen from among those who submit ITN proposals.