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.