The road through Rye Preserve dead-ends into a 62-acre campus at 751 Rye Wilderness Trail where the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches operated summer camps and a residential program for foster children and at-risk youths for over three decades.
The compound, however, has sat empty since February 2022 when FSYR surrendered the property back to Manatee County after the county terminated its 98-year license agreement.
At a Jan. 9 Manatee County Commission meeting, it was announced that the county has been directed by a judge to pay $375,000 to FSYR to cover improvements at the property that were lost to FSYR when the lease was terminated. That amount was far less than the $2.96 million FSYR sought through mediation against Manatee County.
Manatee County has now been looking at other options as to how best use the property.
Although Manatee County officials were tightlipped about why the lease was terminated, Commissioner George Kruse said, "(FSYR) wasn't using it, and it’s an important space.”
FSYR was using the property, but its uses changed in 2018 when the Families First Prevention Service Act was passed. It impacted the model FSYR had built its services upon, which was residential care.
"It is a federal bill that restricts the use of residential group homes at the state level," FSYR Executive Vice President Maria Knapp said. "There has been significant pressure to discontinue using residential care."
In October 2021, the county sent a Notice of Termination to FSYR. When FSYR's request for $2.96 million to cover the improvements on the property was denied by the county, the nonprofit filed a Petition for Declaratory Judgment in September 2022, asking a judge to determine the organization’s rights under the license agreement.
The original agreement was made with the Manatee River Youth Ranch in 1988 before that organization merged with FSYR in 1991. In 2015, the county extended the agreement with FSYR through Dec. 31, 2113.
County Information Outreach Manager Bill Logan would only say that the lease was terminated without cause, and Knapp declined to comment further on the specifics of the termination.
Logan wouldn't comment on future plans for the property either, but a public records request returned a Right of Entry agreement dated Jan. 10, 2023 between the county and the Foundation for Dreams, which operates a camp for children with special needs.
The Right of Entry only provided access to the Foundation of Dreams so contractors could take a look around and see how much work would need to be done if both parties decide to move forward with a more permanent contract.
Foundation for Dreams Executive Director Elena Cassella said the foundation’s recent dealings with the county had nothing to do with FSYR’s exit.
The Right of Entry agreement ended on Dec. 31, 2023. Cassella said she expects a final decision on whether or not the foundation will take over the property sometime in February, but declined to comment further while the matter is still under legal review.
The $375,000 that Manatee County was ordered to pay was a far cry from the $2.96 million asking amount because of how each party calculated its figure.
“We agreed to effectively buy their improvements back,” Kruse said. “As with any kind of negotiation, there was a big disagreement as to what those improvements were worth. This is tax dollars. We’re not giving you $2 million just because you want it.”
FSYR based its figure on a fair market appreciated analysis. The county based its figure on a depreciated valuation analysis under the Federal Income Tax Law.
The land was not a part of either appraisal, only the buildings and structures which include a multipurpose building, maintenance building, learning center, three cottages, two houses, pool and pool house, barn and stables, pole barn and basketball court.
FSYR constructed the buildings between 1991 and 2001. According to its appraisal, the structures have a remaining life span of between 25-30 years.
After an unsuccessful mediation, the county filed a Motion for a Final Summary Judgment based on the license agreement being “unambiguous” as to how the value of existing improvements were to be appraised.
The license agreement reads as follows:
“County shall be required to compensate Agency for the depreciated value of all buildings, structures and facilities that shall remain on the property installed or constructed thereon by Agency and not relocated by Agency.”
The county also argued that FSYR was asking for more in compensation than was spent on the buildings, and FSYR's Book Value Report supports that claim.
Flink Cottage, for example, cost $515,367.18 to build 25 years ago. Since then, according to the report, the cottage has depreciated by $370,778.04, which leaves a book value of $144,589.14. FSYR's appraisal, which was based on as-is fair market value, valued the cottage at $576,000.
The county’s motion was granted on Aug. 9, but the sum of $375,000 hadn't been determined yet. Circuit Court Judge Edward Nicholas referred back to the original contract that stated each party had to get an appraisal based on depreciated value, then the county has to add them together and pay half the sum within 60 days.
While FSYR no longer has a physical location in the area, its programs are still available to residents.
“We run a mobile camping program in the summertime, and we also serve Manatee County in our residential program up at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch,” Knapp said. “We’re still serving Manatee County kids. It just looks a little different.”
Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.