Tax-increment financing district revenue for Bay Park in downtown Sarasota estimated to be $1 million higher through 2023 fiscal year than originally projected

Chief operating officer of Bay Park Conservancy announces October ribbon cutting date for Phase I

A rendering shows an aerial view of The Bay Park as of 2018. Image courtesy Bay Park Conservancy

In appearing before the Sarasota County Commission during its April 26 meeting, Bill Waddill, chief operating officer of the Bay Park Conservancy, technically was present to make a request related to money.

However, he also had news and photos to share with the commissioners about the opening of Phase I of The Bay Park this fall.

As noted in an April 26 county staff memo provided in the agenda packet, the Conservancy, which is overseeing the creation of the Park in downtown Sarasota, must make a formal request by May 1 each year in regard to the revenue that will be produced by the tax-increment financing (TIF) district established for the park. Therefore, Waddill asked that the commissioners approve a deposit of the Fiscal Year 2023 proceeds in the trust fund set up for the park.

The county’s share of the TIF revenue for The Bay Park on the City of Sarasota’s 53 waterfront acres was $99,614 for the 2021 fiscal year and $534,375 for the current fiscal year, the county staff memo noted.

By the time the 2023 TIF payments are made from both the city and the county, the trust fund should have about $2.9 million in it, the memo added.

In 2020, county staff projected that the total TIF revenue through the 2023 fiscal year would be close to $1.9 million: $1,864,922.

This is the tax-increment financing (TIF) district for The Bay Park. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The TIF district not only includes the 53 acres but surrounding property, as well. It was designed with the hope that new construction planned in that area would result in close to $200 million for park amenities by the end of the 30-year life of the interlocal agreement that the City and County commissions approved in late 2020.

Each year that property values rise in the district, both city and county staff members calculate how much their millage rates would produce from the affected property owners. Then, the resulting revenue is set aside for The Bay Park.

This Jan. 15, 2020 chart shows the estimated revenue for the TIF for The Bay Park as of that time. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The county commissioners approved Waddill’s request on a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Michael Moran and Christian Ziegler in the minority. During discussions about the plans for the TIF district, both expressed concerns about tying up so much county revenue over decades. Moran, especially, voiced worry that another recession could pose serious problems for the county, with the commissioners unable to use any of the funds committed to the park.

An October ribbon cutting planned for Phase I

This graphic shows the latest plans for The Bay Park, as presented to the County Commission on April 26. Image courtesy Sarasota County Board of Records

During his April 26 presentation, Waddill also showed the County Commission a series of slides, noting that the City Commission adopted the master plan for The Bay Park in 2018. Referring to the existing site, he added, “About 35 of the 53 acres is parking lot, most of which drains untreated stormwater into [Sarasota] Bay.”

Along with overseeing construction of amenities for the park, Waddill continued, the Conservancy’s focus has been on “cleaning up the environment.”

From the site as it is today, Waddill noted, plus the area that stretches about half-a-mile to the east, along U.S. 41, more than 300 million gallons of polluted water drains each year into Sarasota Bay.

This is a rendering showing an aerial view of Phase I. Image from The Bay Park website

Then he shifted his focus to Phase I of The Bay Park, which encompasses about 10 acres. The Conservancy, he said, has been working on that initial section for four years. That was all the more reason, he said, that he was excited to report that a 10-day celebration is planned in October for the grand opening of that phase.

The ribbon cutting is scheduled for Oct. 21, Waddill continued, with festivities planned from Oct. 14 through Oct. 23.

The two key elements of Phase I, he pointed out, will be “an iconic concession and restroom plaza” designed by the Sarasota architectural firm Sweet Sparkman, and a “relatively small but still iconic … family playground themed around two very large ibis birds.” That theme, he explained, is a nod to the dozens of ibis that traditionally flock to the Mangrove Bayou section of Phase I this time of year.

This rendering shows the Concession Plaza and the shade structure. Image courtesy Sarasota County Board of Records

He also showed the commissioners an image depicting the shade structure for Phase I, plus about 2 acres of lawns with flexibility for a variety of uses. A small amphitheater is planned on the east side of the Concession Plaza, Waddill continued, with an LED screen that can be used to present family movies and perhaps playoff games of Tampa’s National Hockey League team the Lightning.

Further, Waddill noted, the Conservancy staff is “about eight months into the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ permitting process” for the Sunset Boardwalk designed for Phase I. Staff expects to receive the permit next year, he said; then, it will begin constructing the boardwalk from the water.

The total expense for Phase I is about $28 million, Waddill added. The Conservancy committed to raising approximately 80% of that, he continued. “We’ve actually raised over $40 million [through private philanthropy].”

Moreover, Waddill noted, “We’ve invested over $17 million in the local economy — mostly local, that is, through construction and subcontractors and consultants.”

Altogether, by the time the park has been completed, he said, the total investment in the local economy is expected to be $175 million.

This is an image of the playground for Phase I. Image courtesy Sarasota County Board of Records

“As we continue to pick up momentum,” Waddill added, the Conservancy this summer will turn its focus to the western shoreline of the park. A pop-up food truck garden is planned on the south side of the Canal District, he said. Then, next year, the goal will be to repair the seawall and add docks for boaters coming to the park for the day. “Within two years, we should have 20 to 25 acres of park open,” he pointed out.

Commissioner Ron Cutsinger ended up making the motion to approve allocating the TIF revenue to The Bay Park Trust Fund, and Commissioner Nancy Detert seconded it.

“I had the pleasure of touring The Bay two or three times,” Cutsinger noted — most recently, about two weeks ago. “Astonishingly beautiful facility,” he added. “First class all the way.”