Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Pineapple Politics

City commissioners voted to continue with the massive redevelopment of downtown Sarasota as they approved the Pineapple Square proposal in principle. City staff was directed to address a number of items (mostly legal questions) and bring back an agreed upon term sheet that will be the basis for a contract.

Only Commissioner Palmer voted against proceeding with the project saying that unanswered questions about the city contribution were the reason she could not vote to move forward at this time. Concerns with how much money was being asked for by the developer and the number of parking spaces required were issues.

City Manager McNees compared the proposal to buying a new car - everyone liked the car but the price was the question. Apparently only Commissioner Palmer thought the price was too high as she pointed out that she felt it was her duty to look out for the interests of the citizens of Sarasota and there were too many unanswered questions.

Commissioner Atkins appeared to struggle with the decision, indicating that while he was happy that a proposal of this magnitude was going to happen, he was very concerned about the continued funding of development projects that benefitted the wealthy while no progress was being made on affordable housing and other issues facing the lower income residents of the community.

No one asked the developer whether the project would go forward without the city contribution of the State St lot or the $7,600,000 in cash.

Commissioners Servian, Bilyeu and Shelin were sold on the proposal, apparently regardless of the cost.

Among the comments heard during the discussion were:

Tony Souza: Sarasota is no longer a sleepy fishing village [apparently we are well on our way to becoming a wealthy enclave].

The Chair of the St Armands Business Improvement District emphatically indicating that the B.I.D. membership fully supported the proposal believing that the two retail districts are different and are complimentary - [the next day a newspaper article had a story of a St Armands retailer moving from St Armands to downtown].

Molly Cardamone glowingly speaking about the merits of the project [hasn't she been employed as a "lobbyist" for the developer?]

John Simon, the developer, insisting that the State St lot has no value unless it is sold and in this case it will not be sold, so it has no value; saying that not a single dollar of city money goes into this project (and emphasizing this by repeating it) [no comment required in this case].

Someone involved in development and public funds recently told me that in any project involving public funds the politics of the project must be worked out first. Then the numbers will follow. How true his experience is. For Pineapple Square the politics were mostly worked out before the project was even publically announced. At least one commissioner was on board from the start.

The numbers were an afterthought. Even though city consultants and citizens expressed serious doubts about the validity of the developers "math" and the wisdom of committing such a huge amount of public resources for this project, none of these arguments were effective. The decision had been made and the numbers followed.

Another urban amenity found here: politics as usual.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Amazing- that's all I can say about it. But then again I guess Big business is king here now. I hope they understand what they're wishing for.

As far as Servian's comments all I can bring myself to say is maybe in the future you can pretend to actually have the greater good of the population in mind before you cast us all into some pit of malcontents.

Praise should be bestowed on big business once again for succeeding in convincing city leaders (?) that they know better than those that only live here.

I'm busy packing my bags now. as it has become very clear who seems to be running (controling) this town. Congratulations Sarasota, you've become one of the new destinations for those that have no room for the ones that have come before.

Tony Sousa and his special interests should feel very proud that they have managed to isolate those that do not agree. You would have actually done better to be a nuetral force instead of your direction that has alienated many (but then again you're simply a brand new pawn for the game).

Additionally, we can only hope to replace the open door policy our "leaders" seem to believe is appropriate. To the current leaders that are responsible- hope you have some big war chests in the coming year- you're going to need them for selling our community out to the special interests.

You, as our City leaders, and stewards of the public trust have once again let us down. Guess that kool aid is better than we could have all imagined.

Anonymous said...

I am not against the Pineapple Square project, but agree with the newspaper editorial this morning, that there were many questions left unanswered. Mr. McNees' comment that "they knew the model car they wanted, but had not yet settled on the price," sent the same message. Also appreciated his (city manager's) defense of planning staff when developer's lawyer called their upcoming presentation a "rebuttal" and he (and later Commissioner Bilyeu) reminded everyone that staff was there to provide information.

Sadly, it did not appear all of that information was considered.

I wish that when casting their votes the commissioners would have spoken about why they disagreed with or did not think important the numbers provided by their consultants. I understand that the mayor has a background in banking, but would have hoped she would have shared with us the insight this provided her into the numbers that were leading many of us to believe the project needed more scrutiny.

Kudos to Commissioner Palmer for having the courage, in a room full of supporters of the project, to continue to wish to pursue issues of concern about the project and to vote against a quick decision.

A special meeting should have been scheduled, with sufficient time to really consider such an important, high-impact project.

Anonymous said...

I had another problem with the decision-making. At one point Commissioner Shelin apologized that he had a 12:00 speech to give, so he might be late for the 1:00 pm meeting. Everyone teased him about cutting his speech short and all had a good laugh.

Then the mayor commented that he actually did not have to cut his speech short because the meeting would start with public comment...adding they could summarize the pros and cons for him.

That they did not do. But the comment reflected a feeling about the public that makes us feel disenfranchised and removed from consideration in commissioners' deliberations. Inconsequential as our comments may seem to them, I would think the commissioners would value citizen input.

Anonymous said...

Who will run against these clowns, or should we start a recall effort?

Gretchen Serrie said...

Here's another topic for you. I was interested in former commissioner Mollie Cardamone's speaking about how previous commissions land banked properties for future use.

Question: Are we currently landbanking property for the future. For instance, does the city own, or is it looking to purchase, land on the outskirts of town for people to park and take public transportation into what is destined to become a very congested downtown, with congested arteries leading into it, if we don't look to the future?

Anonymous said...

Land banking?!! These guys are GIVING away our land in a fire sale! The only other large piece of property in the city left is the Palm Avenue parcel- and no doubt the devloper types are putting a bug in their collective ears on that one too!! Here's a really ironic point. The City Commissioners just agreed to sell a parcel consultants said was worth almost 11 million dollars for 1 million dollars. Previously, they were considering purchasing a postage stamp piece of property in Burns Court for 5 million! Why are these people our leaders? They certainly don't appear to be responsible stewards of the public's money and land. Anything they attempt to bank now will come with a large price tag.

Anonymous said...

About Molly Cardamone's speaking as former commissioner and, I believe, so identified in the newspaper article this morning---

If she is a paid consultant for the developer, should she not have identified herself as such before speaking at the table. Any rules...past precedent...covering this? If not, shouldn't there be?

With former legislators serving as lobbyists on the national radar, this is an interesting local question as well.

Anonymous said...

Actually the land in Burns Ct. that they did not buy I think was exactly 1/2 the size of the State Street lot. The parking engineer was able to fit a 5 story garage on the Burns Ct. land that would fit 350 cars. So, the commissioners now are giving away a piece of land valued at 11 million (twice the size of the Burns Ct. land - makes sense it would cost twice as much) for one million and then paying the developer (of course he will finance for the city) around 7 million dollars to build 350 spaces. Something does not add up here. And they said the land could not fit a parking garage and that also does not make any common sense, if a lot half the size could fit 350 cars, why can not the State Street land? The commission was too fast to make a deal basically telling the public, staff, consultants and appraisers they are stupid.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Molly does paid consulting work for developers. But she is not a politician and does not have to fully disclose her business dealings.

Anonymous said...

I think we should try to have Shelin recalled- what would be involved?