County commissioners unanimously agreed Tuesday they were unwilling to move forward with the city of Sarasota’s funding request for a planned bayfront redevelopment project unless their city counterparts were willing to clarify their intent for requested general purpose funds.
Late last month, The Bay Park Conservancy discussed its desire to set up a tax-increment financing district to help pay for the bayfront project, expected to cost between $100 million and $200 million. To do this, the independent nonprofit group — working in conjunction with the city — sought help from the County Commission.
On May 20, the County Commission received its first formal letter regarding the TIF proposal, which would capture increases in property tax value around the 53-acre city-owned bayfront site and funnel those property taxes into the project.
A second letter sent from the City Commission to the County Commission arrived May 31. This letter mentioned some city leaders’ desire to also use the funds for other purposes, such as improving parks in other areas of the city, enhancing connectivity to the bayfront site and supporting other city priorities such as workforce training and affordable housing.
County commissioners were not receptive to that idea.
“I think that they have confused the situation by sending us conflicting letters,” Commissioner Nancy Detert said, emphasizing the need to “restore trust” between the two commissions. “... We didn’t even agree to the initial request and they’ve expanded it. At this point, I would say we take no action on either (letter) because we don’t know which one is the priority.”
Having previously asked for the city commission to make the process “easy” for them, commissioners said they felt the city had further convoluted their request. The discussion led to questions about whether a TIF district is necessary.
Commissioners Christian Ziegler and Al Maio shared their reluctance to agree to a 30-year commitment for the TIF district — particularly, Ziegler said, as the commission was waiting to see “a real proposal that is cleaned up and isn’t rushed after a meeting.”
Ultimately, the board agreed not to make any moves until the city clarified its intent.
“If they want us as a partner, they need to hear us. We have been clear for over a year,” Commission Chairman Charles Hines said. “If they want to do it on their own ... I’ll support it on my own. But I can’t as a county commissioner without them developing a plan that brings us in as a complete partner that gives us equal say as them.”