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Sarasota Monday, May. 4, 2009 8 years ago

City puts the brakes on parking decision

by: Robin Roy City Editor

Last month, the Sarasota City Commission asked for more time to consider the purchase of three parcels at Orange Avenue and Laurel Street for $5.5 million.

City Manager Bob Bartolotta had recommended the city buy the lots to create more parking spaces for the Burns Square area. The first appraisal, completed in January, valued the land at $6.6 million. But commissioners questioned the accuracy of the appraisal and asked for a second one.

That second appraisal was completed last week, and it came in at $5.7 million — about $900,000 less than the first appraisal, but the contract offer of $5.5 million was still below the appraised value.

Monday, commissioners voted unanimously to put off the decision once again, because the value may go down even further, and the city could end up over paying.

Currently, the city leases the land and its 63 parking spaces from Realtor Michael Saunders for $32,000 per year.

Vice Mayor Kelly Kirschner suggested the city continue that lease while it watches the market and perhaps reconsiders the sale later.

Saunders’ attorney, Michael Furen, thought that might be presumptuous.

“It’s funny,” he said. “They assume they’ll be able to still lease the property.”

Saunders said it’s a month-by-month lease, so if a better offer comes along, she might take it.

According to a city parking survey, Sarasota is somewhat reliant on the Saunders lot to accommodate the parking needs of Burns Square.

At weekday peak hours, 391 cars visit Burns Square. During weekend peak hours, that number climbs to 500 cars. Currently, there are 190 total space in the Burns Square area, including the 63 spaces from the Saunders lot. The Saunders lot makes up 33% of available parking in that area.

The city is 201 parking spots short during the week and 310 short on the weekend. That deficit would increase if the city is no longer able to use the Saunders property.

However, commissioners said that the current economic conditions and real-estate market didn’t warrant spending $5.5 million right now.

“We need parking in Burns Square,” said Commissioner Suzanne Atwell. “But this is not the time.”

Said Kirschner: “We need to protect our tax base, not erode it.”

But Saunders said trying to predict real-estate prices is a risky practice.

“Markets go up and down,” she said. “No one can judge where the bottom is.”


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