The Sarasota City Commission on Monday moved forward on a split vote with a plan to build a State Street parking garage but warned staff it doesn’t want to deal with anticipated headaches from trying to lease commercial space on the structure’s first floor.
Incorporating an affordable housing component into the garage project also worries commissioners.
Chief Planner Steve Stancel tried to assuage the commission’s concerns by explaining that staff learned a lot from the mistakes made when the city built the Palm Avenue parking garage. In short, the city plans to solicit bids for potential retail and commercial entities much earlier in the planning process, to make sure the first-floor retail space doesn’t sit empty for long periods of time after the project is complete.
During his presentation, Stancel explained that the agreement the city reached with Pineapple Square developers last year, when it acquired the 43,700-square-foot lot, includes the requirement that the city build a garage with at least 300 spaces on the site within four years. The city’s parking master plan in 2005 did identify the State Street lot as a priority designation for a garage, he said. The site is the current home to a 139-space parking space lot.
“We suggest the goal is to design a 300-space garage/mixed-use project,” said Stancel, who added the garage might be built to accommodate closer to 400 spaces depending on how much retail area is included. “The goal is a high-quality, cost-effective and user-friendly project.”
The commission agreed by a 3-2 vote to proceed with a two-phase project. The first phase includes quickly going ahead with putting out a request for proposals for a design team.
Mayor Suzanne Atwell and Commissioners Paul Caragiulo and Willie Charles Shaw approved the request to move forward. Vice Mayor Terry Turner and Commissioner Shannon Snyder opposed it.
The first phase also involves a series of public hearings to gauge what types of retailers the public would like to see in the project. Site designs would be created during this phase, with potential tenants allowed to approach the city.
“At the end of this phase, we hope to come up with a guaranteed maximum price for the cost of the garage that the commission must agree upon before moving forward,” Stancel said. The city would reserve the right to bid out the project again if it was not satisfied with any of the bids.
Phase two involves building the project, with staff proposing the groundbreaking in October 2012 and completion a year later.
Stancel told the commission that low current construction costs, the looming deadline for using the site and the need for the garage are all reasons city staff believes the project should begin.
But not everyone agreed with staff.
Turner said he was concerned the initiative was moving too quickly, adding the city could save some money if it put the plan on hold for a year.
“The sooner the garage comes online, the sooner we incur operating costs,” said Turner, who also expressed worries about the project’s retail and affordable housing components. “If we went without retail space and workforce housing, we could get something done more cheaply. I think this is a Cadillac when something a little less expensive might be necessary.”
Commissioner Shannon Snyder agreed. “We have enough affordable housing to last us 15 to 20 years,” Snyder said. “Whatever goes in the bottom (of the garage) needs to be what our biggest return will be. Don’t try and hit the homerun when you can hit a good double.”
While City Manager Bob Bartolotta said the project could be delayed for another year, that would be cutting too close to the use-of-site deadline.
“Our thinking with this timeline is it will all be built after the community discusses in public hearings what it wants on the site,” Bartolotta said. “We aren’t closing the door on anything and have already heard about a farmers market and potential drugstore interest or even high-end retail to complement Pineapple Square.”
Michael Beaumier, project executive for Mills-Gilbane, confirmed for the Sarasota Observer that he’s trying to bring a national pharmacy chain store to the future garage.
Downtown Sarasota Farmers Market representatives also told the commission they would like to be considered for space in the future garage.
Randy Walker, executive director of the Sarasota County Economic Development Corp., told the commission he was pleased with its decision. “There is an interest in this particular location, based on market conditions,” Walker said. “I wish we could cut the timetable. It’s a great time to invest in our community and this is really exciting for us.”
Commissioner Paul Caragiulo agreed to move forward, as long as the city stays out of the development portion of the garage.
“An architect has to tell us how to fit things on that site,” Caragiulo said. “The city shouldn’t be the developer on this and should create ways for other entities to shape this project.”
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].
City of Sarasota staff proposed the following timeline for completion of a State Street parking garage.
Sept. 14, 2011 — Request for proposals would be ready for distribution to potential design teams and contractors.
Oct. 17, 2011 — All proposals must be submitted.
Jan. 16, 2012 — Staff would select a design construction team and begin phase 1 of the project, which includes talking with potential retail/commercial tenants.
May 25, 2012 — Phase 1 completion deadline.
July 23 2012 — City approves a contract to build the garage.
Oct 29, 2012 — Garage construction begins.
Oct. 25, 2013 — Garage constructed completed.