Whenever governments pick winners and losers, adverse consequences are inevitable.
In contrast, economic studies going back to Adam Smith have proven repeatedly that the most efficient and equitable outcomes result when economic decisions are left to unfettered market forces.
We can expect adverse results when Sarasota County commissioners and county staff become the decision makers in evaluating proposals to develop two parcels of land, one in downtown Sarasota, the other east of I-75.
County staff are currently vetting invitations to negotiate for the sale of a one-acre parcel at the corner of Main Street and North Washington Boulevard and 42 acres on Coburn Road in east Sarasota County.
The downtown Sarasota property was last appraised at about $2 million, and the Coburn Road parcel has been valued at $258,000.
The idea driving the county's plan is simple and common sense. Commissioner Joe Barbetta spearheaded the effort to consolidate county offices and sell surplus land.
“We’re not in the real-estate business,” Barbetta said last year. “You’re never going to sell at the top of the market. The idea is to get (surplus land) back on the tax rolls.”
But the execution of the idea is bound to end in controversy.
Instead of turning to market forces and auctioning off the two properties to the highest bidder — say, to the developer who values the land the greatest, resulting in the most economically efficient use of the land — the county will consider a litany of factors regarding future development plans.
Consider this memo from county staff: "This process will allow for the consideration of economic benefit and proposed outcomes of a development plan and other public benefit considerations during the negotiations and help the County reach a ‘best overall value and use’ for the property."
Talk about typical government jargon…
Meanwhile, the city of Sarasota ignited its own controversy when commissioners defied market-price mechanisms on the sale of property at the corner of Fruitville and Beneva Roads.
In this case, the city agreed to sell the property to Benderson Development for half the price offered by a competing company. The higher bidder and neighborhood groups were furious after commissioners tried to justify their decision.
When county commissioners and staff begin considering proposals for the downtown and Coburn Road properties Oct. 18, you can bet the process will generate controversy and ill will.
That’s what happens when government intervenes in the marketplace and picks winners and losers. It would make more financial and economic sense to sell these properties quickly to the highest bidders.