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Sarasota Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019 8 months ago

Bayfront conservancy agreement under review

Residents and city officials want more time to consider the terms of an agreement with a private bayfront management group.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

As the city embarks on a public-private partnership with little local precedent, some residents want to be careful before finalizing the terms of any agreement.

On Monday, the city reviewed the proposed outline of a deal with The Bay Park Conservancy, the private nonprofit formed to oversee the development and operations of a 53-acre city park on land surrounding the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. The term sheet was a precursor to a more formal contract, offering a general delineation of duties.

The proposal sought to delegate much of the responsibility for managing the waterfront property to the conservancy while maintaining the city’s ownership of the land. The conservancy would be responsible for providing detailed plans of each phase to the city for public review. The city would be responsible for providing baseline funding for the project.

Although some city commissioners said they felt comfortable with the terms of the deal as presented, the board ultimately took no action Monday. Instead, the commission directed the conservancy’s leaders to continue to refine the terms based on resident and official feedback. The conservancy intends to return to the commission March 18 with an updated term sheet and a draft memorandum of agreement.

Attorney Dan Lobeck is one of the residents who objected to some of the elements of the term sheet. Ahead of Monday’s meeting, he sent an email to commissioners pushing for more explicit city control over the development of the site.

Lobeck said the bayfront park project is worthwhile and that a partnership with the private sector makes sense. Still, he said the city should be vigilant about not delegating too much authority to an outside group.

“It’s public property,” Lobeck said. “It should be governed in its essential terms by the elected representatives.”

Bill Waddill, the conservancy’s managing director, said he understood the skepticism some residents expressed. He said the proposed term sheet, drafted in collaboration with city staff, was designed to be a partnership in which both parties were responsible for the tasks they’d be best equipped to address. He said the conservancy was flexible and open to change — and would continue to be receptive to suggestions even if an agreement with the city is finalized.

He was hopeful that, as the conversation about the bayfront continued, residents would have faith in the conservancy’s commitment to the public interest.

“It really is a partnership,” Waddill said. “I understand there’s concerns about trusting each other, but there has to be some trust moving forward.”

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