The Sarasota City Commission will move forward with G.WIZ Science Museum lease negotiations after city staff examines the museum’s audited financials and ensures G.WIZ is in compliance with the city’s grant policy.
In the meantime, the commission will work to repair the damage museum officials say came with previous commissioner comments regarding a possible relocation of the museum.
The decision, made at Monday’s regular commission meeting, came after city officials learned G.WIZ could not be moved to another city parcel, as suggested by Commissioner Shannon Snyder. Both a city-owned parcel at 1000 Blvd. of the Arts and the neighboring G.WIZ parcel can never be sold to a private entity, according to submerged lease mandates and other requirements that are tied to both parcels. City attorney Bob Fournier confirmed Monday the land cannot be sold.
G.WIZ Executive Director Molly Demeulenaere and museum board members told commissioners the comments made regarding G.WIZ upset museum officials and the community that supports the museum. Demeulenaere asked the city to consider a 17-year lease extension to 2037 to assuage future concerns and undo damage done by the comments.
Former Sarasota city commissioner Ken Shelin, a member of the G.WIZ advisory board, encouraged commissioners not to make such comments at future regular meetings .
“Schedule workshops and do brainstorming so comments at this table during regular meetings aren’t misinterpreted,” Shelin said. “Move ahead with diligence for a lease renewal, so this museum can go to donors and say this is a valuable community asset that’s here to stay.”
While commissioners agreed the museum was an asset, they were not comfortable with approving a lease extension until 2037. The current lease allows the museum to stay on the property for another eight years, and Commissioner Paul Caragiulo and others agreed to review future lease extensions at the proper time once the museum’s audited financials are reviewed.
Commissioners, meanwhile, expressed frustration with how the public perceived the past discussion.
“Perhaps it wasn’t the right time to discuss this, but when is it the right time?” asked Caragiulo, reiterating the commissioners must follow Government in the Sunshine laws that prohibit them from discussing such matters outside of meetings.
Vice Mayor Terry Turner said the city was never looking to evict the museum.
“It was implied we would explore opportunities with G.WIZ if they were willing to do so,” Turner said. “As it turns out, the city can’t sell the property or adjoining property for private purposes. It’s this commission’s intention to help you thrive.”
Mayor Suzanne Atwell said it is time to drop the matter.
“We all understand what happened here and how it negatively affected the museum,” Atwell said. “We will move forward now.”