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Bay Park Board divided over arts center architect contract funding

City and county commissioners clash over the release of TIF funds for the Sarasota Performing Arts Center architect contract.

A conceptual drawing of Sarasota’s bayfront with The Bay Master Plan and a new performing arts center in place.
A conceptual drawing of Sarasota’s bayfront with The Bay Master Plan and a new performing arts center in place.
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Tax increment financing district funding for development of The Bay park continues to garner full support of Sarasota city and county governments. As for the would-be crowned jewel of the city-owned, 53-acre park, perhaps not so much.

During the March 29 meeting of the Bay Park Improvement Board, a panel that represents both the city and county commissions, members unanimously recommended approval from both bodies of the fiscal year 2025 deposit into the Bay Park Trust Fund from TIF revenues collected — the 50% public share of construction costs for Phase II of the project. Those deposits are estimated at $2.55 million each from the city and county.

A second request for the release of TIF funds for a contract between the city and the architecture firm selected to design the proposed Sarasota Performing Arts Center, which is included in the interlocal agreement for funding of The Bay project, highlighted a stark contrast between the city and the county.

Jennifer Jorgensen, the city’s governmental affairs director, requested the BPIB recommend to the city and county commissions approval of an “envelope” of $44 million for architectural services.

The actual payment to Renzo Piano Building Workshop, the selected firm engaged in contract negotiations with the city, isn’t the full $44 million, Jorgensen explained. It would actually be around $35 million. The remainder is a contingency for cost overruns or change orders. Of that $35 million — which at this time is an estimate — Renzo Piano will be responsible for hiring and paying the architect of record and all of the subcontractors such as landscape architects, geo-technology engineers, structural engineers and others. 

The estimate was provided by The Paratus Group, the city’s consultant to the project.

At $44 million, the city and county would be responsible for $11 million each and the Sarasota Performing Arts Foundation $22 million. The public funds are not from the tax base at large, but rather taxes assessed on the improved value of properties surrounding the Bay — such as The Quay — measured against the baseline of the 2019 property tax assessment.

County Commissioner Ron Cutsinger first questioned whether it was understood when the agreement was drafted that TIF revenues, which are collected by both the city and county, for The Bay also applied to a new performing arts center.

“I've been here from the beginning, commissioner, and all along it was anticipated that we would include having a new performing arts center as part of this entire project,” said Mayor Liz Alpert. “So yes, it was anticipated at the very beginning of this.”

As the conversation continued, the board at times conflated the parallel tracks of the work of the Purple Ribbon Committee for repurposing the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and that of the Sarasota Performing Arts Foundation. The latter is spearheading the effort to build a replacement for the Van Wezel and eventually start a capital campaign to fund 50% of the capital cost.

County Commissioner Mark Smith suggested waiting for the recommendation of the Purple Ribbon Committee before the city continues toward building the SPAC, for which the county’s TIF revenues will be responsible for 50% of the public cost of what has been estimated to be a $275 million project.

“I haven't been convinced that a larger hall is actually necessary, so for me to suggest that we should send the architect on their way to even start design or considering design of a new building, I’m not sure I could back until I see the Purple Ribbon Committee’s report on the existing building,” Smith said. "I just can't support it.”

That report, however, isn’t due for another 18 months, Jorgensen said, and to keep the SPAC on track — and get the architect on board — negotiations must conclude soon.

City Commissioner Debbie Trice attempted to distinguish between the two missions.

“The future of the Van Wezel and the performing arts hall are separate and distinct, and we should consider them as separate decisions,” Trice said. “If the performing arts hall moves at the timeline that we anticipate it might not be ready for use for another seven or eight years, and any work that would need to be done on the Van Wezel to bring it up to resiliency wouldn't be able to start until the new performing arts hall is ready for use.

“That might be 10 years from now. The way that Sarasota has been growing, I’m really sure that we can support both a 2,200-seat auditorium in the new hall and whatever size the renovated Van Wezel is.”

Both Cutsinger and Smith said they cannot make a recommendation to the full County Commission to approve TIF funds for the architect contract, Smith because he doesn’t see the need and Cutsinger because he is not yet fully informed of the issue. Cutsinger said if the vote were held at that time he could not support the request, but that he would consider tabling the vote until the next meeting.

The previous meeting of the BPIB was held March 10. In 2023. 

“How soon can we have the next meeting?” Alpert asked. “We can't wait a year.”

The board unanimously voted to schedule another meeting within the next month. Jorgensen said that will be necessary to keep negotiators on schedule.

“We'd have to come back within the next month or so to be able to bring this in front of the county, bring this in front of the city and then bring the contract in front of the city as well,” she said.



Andrew Warfield

Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

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