Texas company gets City Commission go-ahead to undertake feasibility study regarding development on Marian Anderson Place site

UrbanAmerica has 180 days to undertake its research before deciding how it wishes to proceed

A rendering shows the UrbanAmerica vision for the buildings that would front on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

It took less than 15 minutes on May 7 for the Sarasota City Commission to give unanimous approval to a company’s proposal for a feasibility study regarding development on the Marian Anderson Place site in North Sarasota.

Staff had recommended that action as the first phase of a two-pronged process. Depending upon the results of the study, the firm may elect to proceed to Phase II, which would be negotiating to purchase the land, Steve Stancel, general manager of economic development for the city, explained to the commissioners.

City staff and representatives of UrbanAmerica LLC — a minority-controlled real estate investment firm headquartered in Arlington, Texas — agreed on the phased approach, Stancel explained, “to better understand the economic feasibility” of development of the site.

As a result of the board vote, UrbanAmerica will have 180 days to determine whether the former brownfield property can be transformed into an economically viable mix of uses. The company’s initial plan calls for about 4 acres of commercial, retail and office space; approximately 7.5 acres for a vocational-technical school and industrial park, with the latter described as “smart business incubator areas”; and about 1.5 acres of passive recreational space, according to a city staff memo.

The vision is for the project to be known as “Destination Marian Anderson Place,” noted Stancel.

The retail anchor of the project, as foreseen by UrbanAmerica, would be a 49,000-square-foot supermarket. Ingress and egress would be from 21stStreet and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Stancel added. The property, which comprises 13.19 acres, is 300 feet east of U.S. 301 and about 1 mile east of U.S. 41.

At the conclusion of the study period, Stancel said, UrbanAmerica will have 30 days to decide whether to start negotiating with the city to buy the land. If the firm believes the study results warrant going forward, Stancel added, UrbanAmerica will provide city staff a summary of how it plans to develop the property. Then city leaders would have 30 days to decide if the proposed uses meet the criteria upon which the City Commission settled last year.

On March 20, 2017, the City Commission voted 4-1 to direct staff to advertise an Invitation to Negotiate (ITN) for potential development of the Marian Anderson Place site. The board members agreed that what they want to see on the property are quality residential/office/mixed-use construction along the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way frontage; high-tech industry and light production and assembly facilities; and a vocational/technical training center that would serve as the focus of a local entrepreneurial hub. They also stressed their interest in local hiring and sustainability.

A graphic provides more details about the proposed project. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

UrbanAmerica was the only firm to respond to the ITN the city advertised, Stancel pointed out. After vetting the firm’s response, he added, the Newtown Community Redevelopment Area Advisory Board (NCRAAB) voted on April 30 to recommend that the City Commission enter into the Phase I agreement with the company.

UrbanAmerica’s focus is on providing skilled and semi-skilled jobs with living wages; retail jobs with advancement opportunities; and sustainable job training facilities, Stancel noted. Launched in 1998, he added, the firm manages real estate assets valued at $900 million, and it has raised $780 million in institutional capital within the past 16 years. It has created more than 27,000 jobs for residents of low-income communities in which it has invested, he pointed out.

If UrbanAmerica’s findings showed the Marian Anderson Place site would be more appropriate for a residential project than the other uses, for example, Stancel continued on May 7, the City Commission would be able to conclude the process with the company at that point. However, UrbanAmerica would be required to provide all the reports on its studies and analysis to city staff at no cost, he added.

A rendering shows the plans for the vocational-technical training facility and industrial space on Marian Anderson Place site. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

With the commission’s having approved the feasibility study and market analysis on May 7, the timeline says the parties have 20 days to sign a formal agreement, Stancel noted.

The Marian Anderson Place property was contaminated years ago when it served as a burial site for debris from a former city landfill, staff explained in an August 2016 PowerPoint presentation to the City Commission. Arsenic was the primary problem, Stancel said on May 7.

In 2014, city records show, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) issued an order declaring that groundwater remediation on the property had been completed.

Timothy Litchet, director of the city’s Neighbor and Development Services Department, explained during the March 20, 2017 City Commission meeting that the land is zoned Commercial Residential District. However — as Stancel noted on May 7 — rezoning could be undertaken to allow for high-tech businesses and light production on part of the site.