Until the city of Sarasota exhausts all other funding sources, Sarasota County refuses to give $500,000 to clean up the site of an old dumping ground.
The county made the decision Wednesday after learning it will take $5 million to $7 million to clean up the Marion Anderson Brownfield, which is a former landfill that sits on the edge of Newtown just east of U.S. 301.
The city maintains the site is integral in injecting life into the North Sarasota economy and could be the future gateway to the revitalization of North Sarasota.
At the Sarasota County Commission meeting Wednesday, North Sarasota Redevelopment Manager Lorna Alston told the commission the approximately 13-acre Marion Anderson Brownfield site, at 2046 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way, is an important part of the revitalization process.
The Florida Brownfield Association designated sites such as this one as “brownfields” to describe the various commercial and industrial properties that were abandoned in once-thriving Florida cities.
“My thrust is economic development and job creation, and this is an important part of that puzzle for the city,” Alston said.
County commissioners don’t deny that the site, which was discussed as a possible Wal-Mart location in 2006, needs to be redeveloped. But they are hesitant to commit to giving the city $500,000 at this time.
County attorney Stephen DeMarch also advised the commission that a verbal agreement between the city manager and county administrator in 2004 did not obligate the county to enter into an agreement for the money.
Although the commission will consider giving the city funds in the future, it decided against it at this time, because the city is still working with the Department of Environmental Protection to create a cleanup effort for the site.
The county has already paid the city $67,873.37 to pay for site-monitoring activities required by the state.
But the commission was told that no developer is currently committed to building any commercial development on the site.
“What worries me is we have no developer who can tell us what the final price tag will be to build something on the lot,” said County Commission Vice Chairwoman Carolyn Mason.
Alston told the commission the city has already committed $1.2 million toward the cleanup effort and the county’s commitment would bring the total contributions to date to $1.7 million.
“If you add our contribution, you still aren’t close to where you need to be,” said Commission Chairwoman Nora Patterson.
But Alston said the city is actively talking to developers and has reclassified the property to a commercial/residential site. County support, Alston said, is crucial.
Patterson, however, urged the city to try and obtain state and federal grants before coming to the county for a commitment.
“The goal is there, but the way this thing is written, we can continue giving out money and a developer and federal funds might not ever be there,” Patterson said.
Commissioner Joe Barbetta agreed.
“I don’t think we pay a penny until a remediation plan is approved by the state,” Barbetta said.
The County Commission authorized staff to work with the city to explore entering into a future interlocal agreement to contribute funds for the cleanup effort that’s contingent on city staff obtaining other funding sources.
City Manager Bob Bartolotta told the Sarasota Observer that despite the decision, he is pleased with the action of the commission.
“They made a firm commitment to continue to work together with us,” Bartolotta said. “The goal was to bring to the forefront a previous verbal agreement and discuss the cleanup effort moving forward.”
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