Mote Marine’s two-year lease of county property at Benderson Park to begin after County Commission approval this week of necessary documents

Nonprofit working toward construction of planned $130-million Science Education Aquarium

A rendering by the CambridgeSeven firm shows the exterior of the aquarium. Image courtesy Mote Marine

After an approximately 5-minute presentation this week, the Sarasota County Commission voted unanimously to approve the necessary agreements to launch a two-year lease period with Mote Marine Laboratory for property at Nathan Benderson Park. Mote plans a $130-million Science Education Aquarium on the 11.45-acre site, which Mote eventually could own.

The lease calls for Mote to pay the county $100 per year.

The resolution the County Commission approved on March 24 says Mote “is a world-class marine research institute headquartered in Sarasota, Florida,” with an aquarium and research facilities located in the city of Sarasota. Mote’s operations are on City Island, just north of St. Armands Key.

Mote, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, will use a portion of the park that has been vacant but which has been utilized for “a surface water management and retention facility for Cattlemen Road, DeSoto Road, Nathan Benderson Park, and the University Town Center,” the lease says. University Town Center was developed and is owned in part by affiliates of Benderson Development, the lease notes.

Part of the site is a lake that connects to the rowing facility that the nonprofit Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates (SANCA) operates at Benderson Park, the lease adds.

Mote may request a one-year extension of the initial short-term lease by giving written notice to the county at least 90 days prior to the lease’s expiration, the document points out.

Hayley Baldinelli, manager of the county’s Property Management Division, reminded the board members on March 24 that, slightly more than a year ago — on Jan. 30, 2019 — they approved an omnibus agreement with Mote to allow the nonprofit to begin conducting investigations on the Benderson Park property, including environmental testing. The latter has been completed, she said, and Mote has accepted all the conditions related to the title examination for the property.

Benderson Development Co. and Mote representatives met with county staff as they worked toward completion of the due diligence phase outlined in the omnibus agreement, Baldinelli noted.

An aerial map shows the site where Mote plans the new aquarium. Image courtesy Sarasota County
This graphic shows the property Mote will lease, shaded in coral. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The board vote this week formally approved an escrow agreement, as well as an amendment to an easement agreement involving the Benderson Park property. A staff memo provided to the commissioners in advance of the meeting noted that Mote was “responsible for obtaining or revising easements across the adjacent Benderson property for legal access to [the aquarium site].”

Hayley Baldinelli addresses the commission on March 24. News Leader image

With the adoption of the resolution to launch the lease period, Baldinelli explained, the commission would be giving County Administrator Jonathan Lewis seven days to execute the lease. Afterward, according to documents provided to the commissioners, Mote would have 90 days to apply for the appropriate land use and zoning approvals necessary for it to own and develop the aquarium on the park property. Mote is obligated to pay all fees associated with the land use applications, the lease adds.

After those applications have been turned in to county staff, the lease says, Mote then may submit a preliminary application for site and development review, along with a preliminary application for building permit review.

“Any questions?” Chair Michael Moran asked after Baldinelli’s presentation.

With no board member having spoken up, Commissioner Alan Maio proceeded to make the motion to approve the resolution, and Commissioner Charles Hines seconded it.