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Longboat attracts private donors to finance stage

After a over-budget bids for Town Center land work and stage, town resets budget and attracts thousands in private donations.

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  • | 1:08 p.m. July 4, 2022
  • Longboat Key
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Longboat Key leaders got just what they wanted last week, and they got it pretty much on the timetable for which they were hoping. 

At their last meeting before two and a half months of summer break, Town Commissioners  not only approved a five-year capital budget shift to proceed on site work at the Town Center Green property, but they also learned that private donations have reached a level sufficient to pay for the construction of a stage as a centerpiece for the site.

On July 1, Town Commissioners agreed to push forward with construction of a covered stage on the northeastern boundary of the Town Center, based on the news delivered by Jim Brown, the chair of the Longboat Key Foundation, that private fundraising had gone well enough to see the finish line. 

In June, when town leaders opened a pair of sealed bids for the stage and related site work, they found both bids higher than originally budgeted. The spending plan included up to $500,000 from residents Paul and Sarah Karon for stage construction and about $80,000 in design work already accomplished. 

The town found itself $360,735 short on the stage project with no real desire to pay the remainder out of tax dollars. Brown left a town meeting in early June joking that he "had some phone calls to make'' to help close the gap. 

He returned on July 1 with good news, saying the gap was down to about $1,000 with likely a few more donations outstanding.

"I want everyone to recognize what a wonderful place you live and the people who live on Longboat Key and how generous they are,'' Brown said. "We've had significant, I think six, $50,000 donations and they weren't begged for. In some cases, they called us.  It's a remarkable place.''

Brown said the donations have been pledged, and larger donations have been done through money management companies. In some cases, letters confirming the financial transfers have been sent and that if time becomes short as the July 11 deadline approaches, further confirmations can been made. 

"It's been rewarding to be involved in this. I'm not the only person who has worked on this, many people have, and it's been very successful.'' 

Mayor Ken Schneier thanked Brown for his role and also thanked the Karons,  commissioner Mike Haycock, who has been on an extended RV holiday for weeks, and others for their help. 

"I would say from my role in this and from what Ive heard, on a day to day and hour to hour basis, it;s very possible that we will have enough funds in place in any acceptable form by the contract deadline,'' he said. 

Town Manager Tom Harmer said last week that even though the funding, both private and public, seemed to be lining up the town not only had to do its due diligence to confirm the donations but also set in motion the 10-day cycle of a required notice of recommended award before signing a contract with contractor Jon F. Swift Construction. In the intervening days, town officials said they felt confident based on frequent conversations with Brown that everything would add up. 

"Talking with the staff, the absolute soonest we could enter into a contract would be July 11,'' Harmer said. "And so that's when we think we really need to have out confirmation of the funding in place, then we would work with the finance staff, the town attorney and the Foundation to get all that documentation in place so that we could proceed.''

Harmer also said that had the town decided to set aside the stage project and move forward solely on the site work, an additional cost of about $40,000 would have been added to the total since Swift spread some associated charges across both components of the job. By moving ahead on both fronts, that does not appear to be a problem.

On July 1, Town Commissioners also agreed to add about $530,000 to the site work portion of the project, pulling $445,000 from the town's land-acquisition account, which is funded through fees charged to developers, and $85,381 from the town's share of Sarasota County Infrastructure Surtax funds, which are funded by an additional penny sales tax charged countywide. 

That budget shift, combined with a $53,000 contingency fund, means the town will pay $1.5 million for the site work when it originally intended to pay about $969,000. Contractor Swift’s $1.44 million bid for that site work was about $477,000 over budget without the contingency fund added. 

Swift ended up the sole bidder on the project after Stellar Development Inc. withdrew its also-over-budget-bud after discovering a six-figure error. 

Work could begin this fall, though the stage is not expected to be complete until the first half of 2023. 





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