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Longboat Key Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019 9 months ago

Town center: Let market work

The 4.8-acre Amore property is another example of what happens when governments buy land.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

Around and around we go.

It appears increasingly apparent that the Longboat Key Town Commission is becoming stuck in a circular discussion about what to do with the 4.8-acre site near Publix where it envisioned a vibrant arts, education and community center as part of a town center.

Here is a simplistic and realistic answer on what to do: Sell it.

Longtime readers of this page know we rarely have supported local governments buying and owning land. Typically, governments are poor stewards of land and even worse developers.

The former Amore restaurant property is a case in point. When you have seven elected commissioners, it’s not likely they will reach agreement on how best to use 4.8 acres of vacant land. They all have ideas and a bureaucratic quagmire, as Larry Thompson, president of Ringling College of Art and Design, learned.

There is a way out. We have seen it occur twice on a much grander scale.

Forty years ago, South Miami Beach was a graveyard of decaying oceanfront hotels, apartments and retail stores. For more than a decade, Miami Beach city commissioners solicited proposals to redevelop almost all of South Beach in one grand, visionary project, according to the city’s specifications.

It never happened.

Likewise in downtown St. Petersburg. In the mid-1980s, city commissioners there sought a master developer to redevelop block after block of crumbling buildings in the heart of the city — again according to the city’s detailed specs. This went on for more than five years.

It never happened either.

But here’s what happened instead: Each government gave up and let the private sector do its magic.

The value of the real estate had fallen so low that they attracted creative developers who bought one, two and three parcels and redeveloped them.

The results were incredible. South Beach became one of the most valuable, sought-after locations in the U.S. and the world. And downtown St. Petersburg is the most vibrant downtown in all of Florida — teeming with apartments, retail, restaurants and offices.

Moral of the story: Put a “for sale” sign on the property, and let market forces take over.

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