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Sarasota Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021 2 weeks ago

County considers affordable artist community for surplus land

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Artist community consider as affordable housing proposal on surplus county land.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

It’s seen countless times on TV and in the movies: an oft-played out trope of a brilliant but struggling actor or artist working an odd job to make ends meet. But one local organization wants to avoid that necessity by making rent payments easier for area artists without cutting in on their passion.

The Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County teamed up with Artspace, a Minnesota-based affordable housing developer, to create a proposal for a live and work space for local artists as part of a request for ideas by county officials.

 Out of six proposals, the project has won initial approval from Sarasota County to begin negotiating a deal for property located a 4644 N. Tamiami Trail.

The land, deemed surplus by the county and set aside for affordable housing projects, first received a bid from a Miami company in early 2020. After considering the proposal, commissioners opened a process for the land to receive more applicants.

Among the bids were an array of options, including space for veterans and low-income residents, but county commissioners voted to begin negotiations with the Arts and Cultural Alliance.

Commissioners were keen to build an arts space on the lot because of its proximity to arts institutions, such as the John and Mable Ringling Museum, the Ringling College of Art and Design, and the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

“I think this area of the county is very ripe for a focus on arts and culture,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler said. “That’s really where the hub is, … and I think this is a key cultural piece for us that will add to that puzzle.”

Artspace, which has been working with the Arts and Cultural Alliance for more than six years, initially proposed a 64-unit artist project on the 6.2 acres, offering $1.3 million for the land, which the county purchased for $1.2 million in 2015.

Other proposals offered more money, with one more than doubling the value, but Commissioner Nancy Detert said that wasn’t the point.

“That’s not why we’re doing this,” she said. “We surplussed the property to have a vehicle for affordable housing. The most important thing to me is choosing the one that is most qualified and has a good chance of success.”

The plans include several buildings, pavilions and a 4.2-acre park. Commissioners, however, said that because the property backs up to North Water Tower Park, they preferred the company double the number of units and scratch the park idea.

Unlike other proposals, Artspace did not have a clear outline for residential income limits. Commissioners want the units to be made affordable for households earning 80% of the area median income or less.

The AMI for 2020 in Sarasota County is $76,700, bringing 80% to a total of $61,200. This would mean that rent for households making 80% of the AMI could not exceed $1,530 a month.

“If we want to be the cultural capital, we need to remember that all these people that are starting in the ballet, the orchestra, the Asolo, they are all starting at extremely low paychecks,” Commission Chair Al Maio said. 

The proposal stated construction would begin in 2023, with 100% occupancy by 2026. Every other proposal would have placed occupants by no later than 2024.

Commissioners voted 5-0 to first move forward with the Arts and Cultural Alliance proposal under these conditions:

  • There will be at least a 50% increase in the purchase price; 
  • There will be least a 50% increase in the number of units;
  • The park plan will be removed; and
  • The AMI will be 80% or less.  

Should the project fall through, commissioners also included two other proposals for staff to negotiate as backup: a 95-unit project by Blue Sky Communities and Community Assisted & Supported Living and an affordable complex by Southport Development.

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