After receiving a roomful of applause during his last public presentation, the reception the City Commission gave former Vice Mayor Ken Shelin’s idea for park operations was much more tepid this week.
Shelin is proposing the privatization of Selby Five Points Park as a quicker and more effective way to revitalize it. He suggests a new taxing district that would solely benefit the downtown park.
“We need a civic space that draws people downtown,” he said.
Commissioner Terry Turner was hesitant to offer his support right away.
“The thing that’s troubling me is we’re talking about (privatization) without a well-thought-out plan of what we want to accomplish,” said Turner.
The former vice mayor is using as a guide New York City’s Bryant Park, which was referred to as “Needle Park” in the 1970s because of rampant drug dealing and prostitution.
In the 1980s, a group of prominent citizens formed a nonprofit organization and took over operations, management and funding of the park, which today thrives as an attraction for families and tourists.
Because the city of Sarasota’s budget is so tight, Shelin believes a private organization would have better resources to fund the park operations.
The former vice mayor’s proposal calls for a taxing district that he sees spreading farther than the Downtown Improvement District, which only encompasses a portion of downtown.
Shelin would like to make the district large, so the millage would be low — possibly as low as four-tenths of a mill. The tax would only be assessed to residential properties.
And the proceeds would go toward operating, managing and funding improvements to Selby Five Points Park.
But commissioners had some concerns.
“I think it’s going to be challenging to convince people to pay more taxes,” said Mayor Kelly Kirschner.
Vice Mayor Fredd Atkins, who has always advocated for the homeless who frequent the park, was worried that the people who run the district could dictate exactly who uses the park.
Assistant city attorney Michael Connolly assured him that could not happen.
“The idea of having the (taxing) district is to find additional money for the park and improve the quality of life,” said Shelin.
The city attorney’s office detailed five options for the further operations, management and funding of Selby Five Points Park. They include:
• City continues to operate the park with taxpayer money as it currently does.
• City operates the park with taxpayer money but contracts with a company for a concession stand.
• City contracts with a nonprofit to run the park, but taxpayers still fund the park, as former Vice Mayor Ken Shelin proposes.
• Nonprofit operates, manages and funds the park, but the city still owns it.
• Nonprofit operates, manages, funds and owns the park.
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