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The temptations of ‘OPM’

Longboat Key’s Shakedown Fund is flush with millions of dollars for parks. Commissioners should resist the urge to splurge with OPM — other people’s money.

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Talk about tempting.

Dangle a pot of government money in front of elected officials or groups of public-minded, do-good citizens, and the outcome is inevitable: 

That money starts to burn holes in the pot and eventually ends up being spent on things on which it should not be spent.

Let’s hope that doesn’t happen on Longboat Key. But the temptation surely will be great.

We are referring to the town of Longboat Key’s Land Acquisition Fund, what we would otherwise dub the Longboat Key Shakedown Fund. Back in 1980, when Longboat Key was in the early stages of its greatest development boom, town fathers and mothers instituted a shakedown-ransom tax on every development and new residence, based on size and acreage. The money was to be earmarked and used for parks and open space.

Town code 158.017 stipulates that, as a condition of obtaining permits for final development plans, site plans, subdivision plats or issuance of a building permit, every developer is required to deed land to the town; pay a cash fee of equal value of the land; or provide a combination of both to be used for parks and open space. The basic formula is: 12 acres of land or cash for each potential 1,000 persons residing in the town. If you read the town codes, it’s another Longboat classic: complicated and onerous.

And you wonder why real estate prices are so high here.

Nevertheless, this fund has helped with several park purchases — for example, among others, the acquisition of Quick Point Park; a parcel between Bayfront Park and Pattigeorge’s Restaurant; and, most recently, the $1.5 million acquisition of nearly 3 acres, once known as the Einisman property, next to the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center and Amore by Andrea restaurant. 

Town officials and some current and former town commissioners see that 3 acres as a crucial piece to the eventual development of a town center straddling the tiny road between Bank of America and SunTrust Bank from Bay Isles Road to Bay Isles Parkway.

And that’s where this Land Acquisition Fund may come into bigger play.

At present, the fund has about $2.5 million. It received a nice boost when Ocean Properties Ltd. paid its $2.2 million shakedown money for redeveloping and expanding the former Hilton, now known as Zota Beach Resort.

The fund could mushroom to more than $10 million over the next five to 10 years if four projects come to fruition: a Floridays hotel on the north end; redevelopment of Whitney Beach Plaza; and redevelopments of the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort and the Islandside portion of the Resort at Longboat Key Club.

Can you imagine — more than $10 million of developer money sitting in an account, with town commissioners salivating over how to spend it?

You can be sure the brain trust of the Longboat Key Foundation is cranking. As foundation board members envision developing a black box theater on the Einisman property in partnership with the Ringling College of Art and Design, you can imagine a game plan like this: The town purchasing the Longboat Key Center for the Arts property from Ringling and converting it to a park — in exchange for a Ringling theater in a future town center.

Longbeach Village residents have even expressed their desire for the town to purchase the property Floridays Development Co. has in mind for its north-end hotel for park land.

See what we mean? With all that money sitting in a pot, the temptations are many. It’s easy to spend when it’s other people’s money.


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