SARASOTA — Sarasota County officials hope a pending land sale to Benderson Development will kickstart their master plan for promoting smart growth and interconnectivity east of Interstate 75.
The Sarasota County Commission voted July 9 to sell a 41.34-acre county-owned parcel at the southeast corner of Fruitville and Coburn roads to Benderson Development for $3 million.
The property is located within a larger 420-acre area designated as the Fruitville Initiative. The special planning area includes lands owned by five other major property owners and is intended to include coherent street networks, public and civic spaces, multi-modal transportation systems, environmental preservation and ecological features, while creating economic development opportunities for the area.
Benderson proposes to build a multibuilding light industrial Class A campus totaling between 400,000 and 500,000 square feet of industrial, manufacturing and office space.
“It’s taking the whole idea of light industrial and turning it into a beautiful park,” said Larry Fineberg, executive director of industrial office and warehouse for Benderson. “From a development standpoint and an attraction standpoint for the county, that’s the type of high-paying jobs we want to attract here and are going to diversify our economy. We still have a lot of work to do.”
Lin Kurant, real estate services manager for Sarasota County, said staff will work on fine tuning the contract with Benderson over the next month.
“We’re going to try to bring that back by the end of August,” she said. “We have been working on a contract for quite some time, but these types of situations require a lot of contingencies.”
The county will also secure rezoning and site plan approvals.
Benderson will close on the property once those approvals and other due diligence has been completed, likely in the fall.
“We’ve been working on this Fruitville Initiative for about six years. We need a catalyst to get things moving,” Commissioner Joe Barbetta said. “And they are promising to get out of the ground within six months. It’s not going to be sitting vacant. It will trigger interest. The EDC already is excited about marketing this, even though it’s not final.”
Commissioner Christine Robinson agreed.
“The purpose in selling this property was to generate high quality economic development within the area,” she said. “With the identified need, I believed that this development will be an economic driver in the Fruitville Initiative.”
Commissioner Nora Patterson, who voted against the sale price, said she did not believe Benderson’s proposal was an appropriate or best use of the property.
“I have no problem with the industrial use. I have problems building spec drawings on it,” she said. “If we waited even a year, I think we would find we undersold the property.”
She also said she believes the construction of spec buildings may result in the relocation of already established businesses from one tenant property to another, rather than an influx of new businesses.
“It’s been envisioned for years as an incentive property,” Patterson said. “We’ve gone through several such negotiations. We’ve come very close.”
Per the agreement, Benderson must comply with Fruitville Initiative special planning area requirements, close within 120 days of rezoning the property and start construction on the first 200,000 square feet of building within six months of closing. Benderson also will dedicate 28 feet of the property to the creation of a pubic linear park on the southern edge of the site, adjacent to the county’s neighboring 400-acre park known as the Celery Fields.
Benderson will fill the site with an estimated 190,000 cubic yards of fill (at an estimated cost of $2.25 million) because the property is located within the 100-year-flood plain.
OFFER ABOVE THE PLAIN
Sarasota County deemed 42.2 acres at the southeast corner of Fruitville and Coburn roads as surplus and authorized their sale in July 2013.
In September 2013, the property appraised at between $4.1 and $4.6 million. However, the appraisal did not take into account that the property sits below the 100-year flood plain.
A subsequent appraisal determined the property would need 52,000 cubic yards of fill to bring it to the 100-year flood plain elevation of 20.9 feet. Another 62,000 cubic yards of fill would be needed to bring it to the elevation of comparable properties.
The adjacent Coburn Road has an average elevation of 23 feet, so fill requirements were established at 22 feet.
The new appraisal, released in March, valued the property at $3 million and decreased its size by .86 acres because Sarasota will retain a drainage canal on the west side of the property.
Benderson Development originally had offered $2.5 million for the site.
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