Negotiations authorized to determine next steps on storage of City of Sarasota’s records

City Auditor and Clerk Nadalini working with deputy city attorney on purchase or lease of 17th Street building

A document provided by SVN, a commercial real estate group in Sarasota, shows the building on 17th Street. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Sarasota City Auditor and Clerk Pamela Nadalini has begun working with Deputy City Attorney Michael Connolly to determine whether the city should buy or lease property located at 3580 17th St. in Sarasota as a new storage facility for the city’s central records.

Authorization for that action came in the form of a 4-1 City Commission vote on May 7. Then-Vice Mayor Liz Alpert was in the minority, saying she felt that the board members needed more details before indicating they would be willing to approve the purchase.

Commissioner Willie Shaw made the motion suggested by the backup agenda material for the session. That said, “Authorize City Auditor and Clerk to proceed with working with the Deputy City Attorney to negotiate terms and conditions for purchase of property … contingent upon receipt of certified appraisal of subject property.”

After then-Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie seconded the motion, Alpert said, “To me, that motion still sounds like we’re authorizing the purchase of the building, so I can’t support that.”

She suggested amending the motion to authorize Nadalini and the staff of the City Attorney’s Office to look into whether the city should buy the building.

“That’s a totally different motion,” Freeland Eddie responded. Alpert acknowledged that. Freeland Eddie then pointed out that a motion already was on the floor and called for the vote.

Earlier that afternoon, as the session was running later than members indicated they had expected, Alpert called for moving the agenda item to the evening session. Freeland Eddie objected, pointing out that the evening’s agenda was a full one.

Nadalini told the board members she did not expect it would take long for them to consider the request that afternoon, although Alpert suggested otherwise.

Finally, the commissioners agreed to proceed with the discussion, as well as a second one regarding proposals to ease traffic congestion between downtown Sarasota and St. Armands, Lido and Longboat keys.

Details about the property

The SVN document includes these photos of the building and of views from it. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Material that SVN, a commercial real estate firm, provided to the City Commission in advance of the May 7 meeting says the 17th Street structure comprises 6,083 square feet; it sits on a 0.26-acre parcel. The building was constructed in 1977, but it was renovated in 2017, the document adds.

The cover of the document says the list price is $699,000, but the second page notes the price as $599,000.

The owner of the structure is Chris Brown of Osprey, a businessman who also owns the Beach Club and several restaurants in Siesta Village, as well as parcels in downtown Sarasota.

Brown bought the 17th Street property for $125,000 in late February 2016, according to the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records. Last year, that office listed the market value of the building and land at $303,500.

Connolly indicated on May 7 that the site formerly housed a business that would have used chemicals. He was not certain, he said, whether it had been home to a dry cleaner’s or a service station.

Making her request

Pamela Nadalini. News Leader photo

During her opening remarks on her request, Nadalini reminded the board members that, on March 5, they authorized her to work on lease terms for the 17thStreet structure. Subsequently, she explained, she and Connolly decided “it was not advantageous” to proceed with the lease that had been proposed to city staff.

The first step in the process she was seeking approval of that afternoon, Nadalini continued, would be completion of a certified appraisal of the property. She stressed that no purchase would be negotiated without board consent.

Alpert said she thought the agenda item should be to authorize Nadalini and Connolly “to pursue alloptions,” including a lease. “I want to find out what all of our options are.”

When Freeland Eddie sought confirmation that the agenda item before the commission that day was to authorize negotiations only, Connolly and Nadalini both replied, “That is correct.”

One of her primary questions, Alpert pointed out, was why it would not be more advantageous to lease the structure than to purchase it. “What is wrong with leasing it short-term?”

“The general answer to that,” Connolly explained, is that after leasing the structure for 10 years, “you’ve most likely paid the fair market value of the property, anyway.”

Moreover, in this case, he continued, the lease presented to the city “was very substandard. I think it was put together very quickly.” Among the errors in it, he noted, was incorrect information about the landlord and a misstatement about requirements for insurance. “You’re self-insured,” he told the board members.

“It was bad. Let me put it that way,” he added of the proposed lease.

“I just don’t want to give the impression of ‘We’re buying it,’” Alpert replied, “as long as we can work out terms and conditions [for a lease].”

Liz Alpert has been elected mayor of Sarasota. File photo

Another of her concerns, she indicated, is the fact that the building is about twice the size of the Central Records storage area in the city’s Utilities Department facilities on 12th Street. During September 2016 discussions about persistent rainwater damage and other problems at the Central Records warehouse, then-City Commissioners Suzanne Atwell and Susan Chapman asked why city staff was not digitizing more records, which would lead to the need for less storage space.

At that time, Nadalini explained that staff members in some city departments were less inclined to make electronic copies of materials than her staff was. Additionally, she said, “We’re government, so we’re not going to be able to get rid of every single piece of paper.”

Yet another question Alpert raised on May 7 was why the existing warehouse could not be repaired adequately.

Connolly explained that the commission’s approval of the recommended motion on the agenda would not render moot the consideration of other possibilities.

First, he said, a certified appraisal will be needed. Second, he continued, an environmental assessment probably should be undertaken of the 17thstreet property. After those initiatives have been completed, he said, staff would be back before the commission with a report on the findings.

After the vote

On May 9 — two days after the City Commission vote — Nadalini emailed City Manager Tom Barwin, asking that he please provide her “a funding source and adequate account charge code to allow [Connolly] to begin working with [the city’s] Facilities Manager, Rob Schanley, in the Purchasing Department” regarding the 17th Street property. She added, “It is vitally important that I reiterate, time is of essence.” Therefore, she continued, she hoped he would be able to supply the information to her that morning.

“I greatly appreciate your valued assistance and continued support. If you have any questions or if you require any assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you,” she concluded the email.

Deputy City Attorney Michael Connolly. News Leader photo

That afternoon, Assistant City Manager John Lege responded in an email. The cost to do the appraisal is $2000,” he wrote; he provided Nadalini the code number she had requested.

Lege continued, “It would be my recommendation to not do the environmental assessment at this time. The Environmental Assessment is typically done during the due diligence period once there has been approval to purchase the property. If no agreement can be reached with the property owner on a purchase price or if the City Commission does not approve the purchase, the money spent on the environmental assessment is wasted money. I would look to the Deputy City Attorney for his opinion on whether the environmental assessment should be done now or during the due diligence period.”

Connolly responded to Lege: “I agree with you regarding the environmental assessment. I told Rob [Schanley] yesterday that we should not order the environmental [assessment] until we have the appraisal in hand. At that time we can decide if we need to await City Commission approval of the purchase and sale agreement or if we should order the [assessment beforehand].”

Nadalini then replied to Connolly and Lege, copying the city commissioners.

“I completely understand and concur,” she wrote. “Tom / John,” she continued, “thank you for providing assistance by furnishing the funding source and charge code to proceed with immediately ordering the appraisal, as required.”