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City will consider building its own workforce housing

Sarasota City Manager Marlon Brown will propose a plan to build 192 units in two towers across from City Hall.

The proposed site of a city-owned attainable housing development across First Street from City Hall. The red X marks the location of the city's credit union office, which will remain.
The proposed site of a city-owned attainable housing development across First Street from City Hall. The red X marks the location of the city's credit union office, which will remain.
Courtesy image
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Although the private sector is beginning to respond to the city’s affordable housing incentives programs, even when built, the residences will make only a small dent in the growing demand for attainable workforce housing in Sarasota.

Taking his cue from a discussion in spring 2023, City Manager Marlon Brown said it’s time for the city to lead by example. 

He has spent more than a year working with a local commercial real estate firm to assemble land to build a city-owned, privately managed apartment community in the heart of downtown — directly across First Street from City Hall.

A portion of that block is a city-owned parking lot and separating the two towers and remaining on the block is the Sarasota Municipal Employees Credit Union. The south side of the site is bordered by an alley that separates it from businesses along Main Street.

Brown will formally present to the Sarasota City Commission at its April 15 meeting a proposal to acquire just more than half an acre to build a 192-unit workforce housing apartment complex across two 12-story towers. Purchase agreements with property owners totaling $7.4 million are waiting to be signed, and Brown told the Observer a preliminary estimate for the project is about $80 million.

If approved, the construction would begin in mid-2025 and take up to 24 months to complete. A private company would be contracted to operate the apartments.

In a letter to city commissioners, Brown outlined his plan, writing that in alignment with the City Commission's directive from the March 20, 2023, meeting, staff collaborated with Ian Black and Steve Horn of Ian Black Real Estate to identify and secure land for affordable housing. That effort has yielded an opportunity to build up to 192 affordable and workforce rental units in downtown Sarasota to potentially house approximately 400 workers within walking distance of the heart of downtown.

Staff has connected with philanthropic, community and government agencies to explore partnership opportunities. 

To date, this effort has secured a commitment of $1.5 million from the Barancik Foundation to purchase the property. 

Brown said the Gulf Coast Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of Sarasota are “working on” providing an additional $1.5 million each. Other charitable organizations and potential stakeholders are being pursued as well.

He estimated the cost to purchase the property plus closing and other ancillary costs to be approximately $7.4 million. 

“While some might question the government’s intervention in these matters, solely relying on the private sector hasn’t yet yielded significant results,” Brown wrote in the letter. “We cannot remain passive as the demand for affordable/attainable workforce housing surges.”

The two towers will be separated by the credit union building. The west tower fronting First Street and behind commercial buildings on Lemon Avenue would include:

  • Three parking levels.
  • A 9,700-square-foot ground floor with 8,200 square feet of commercial space.
  • Eight residential floors with 101 apartments.
  • Five two-bed units, seven one-bed units and one studio per floor.

The east tower at First Street and Orange Avenue would include: 

  • Three parking levels.
  • An 8,450-square-foot ground floor with 6,900 square feet of commercial space.
  • Eight residential floors with 91 apartments.
  • Five two-bed units, five one-bed units and one studio per floor.

Permitted density in the zoning district is 50 units per acre and a height of 10 stories. The city would take advantage of both its own bonus densities for affordable housing and the state’s Live Local Act to add 144 bonus units to the base density of 48, and add two stories. Under Live Local, 18 stories would be allowed based on maximum heights existing within a 1-mile radius of the project.

To receive the bonus density, 15% of the additional dwellings must be priced as affordable, rounded up to 22 units. The remaining 122 bonus units, plus the 48 base units, will be available as attainable workforce housing, the eventual rent dictated by the debt service and operations costs.

“When I approached foundations about this, I didn't even have to finish my presentation,” Brown said. “They were on board from day one and were excited about being part of this project.”

As the city is not in the business of profiting from housing, Brown said he intends to keep those costs low enough that service workers, teachers, police officers, office workers, nurses and others in the workforce income ranges can afford to live there.

In addition to the potentially $4.5 million from the three foundations, Brown said he is working to secure additional community partners. As the city did with the Palm Avenue Parking Garage, he said the city would sell the ground-floor commercial space and apply that revenue toward the capital expense.

The balance of property acquisition and construction costs will determine the amount of the revenue bond.

“I've asked the commission to allow me to engage other philanthropic organizations and government organizations like Sarasota County, the School Board, Sarasota Memorial Hospital and others to see if they have an interest in financially contributing to this,” Brown said. “The less money we have to borrow, the less we have to pass on to these residents.”



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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