As pointed out, once again, in Sundays paper, no one understands the deal that the Pineapple Square developers are getting. Why are the city commissioners so eager to give these developers a prime piece of downtown real estate, with an $11M appraised value along with $7.6M in TIF funds for 200 net new parking spaces?
Sure there is a $1M payment back to the city, but we are also giving up a good portion of State St right of way to this project.
As city residents we really want the commissioners to explain why this is such a good deal for us. The deal should be easily explainable in dollars and cents. Just a simple accounting would work fine. As far as we can figure out this deal, the net 200 new parking spaces will cost the city $17,600,000. This works out to $88,000 for each parking space! It also means that each resident of Sarasota is paying over $300 for this project - a family of four would contribute a total of $1200. Why is this a good deal for me and other residents?
No one begrudges the Isaacs developing their property as they see fit (within city code requirements). But why will it cost the residents so much? As the paper says, many like the vision; however no one understands the deal and why it costs so much.
Sarasota has many pressing issues that have a higher priority than fashion retail and upscale chain restaurants that need our dollars and attention. Infrastructure (particularly sewer failures), affordable housing, Newtown revitalization and traffic all need funding. These are problems that all residents continue to deal with. Don't our commissioners listen to the residents any more?
We would ask Commissioner Palmer to get answers to her three pages of questions. If there are no answers - answers that stand up to common sense - why are we rushing this proposal to approval so fast?
We have very competent citizens on the CRA Advisory Board, yet this board was not even asked about the TIF dollars that will be used on this project. These advisory boards are in place so the community gets the best advice possible. Why was this board not given the opportunity to review the proposal and the TIF funds required? Why do we have these boards if the commissioners are not going to give them the opportunity to review critical issues and offer insight?
This project is being rushed through without opportunity for scrutiny. Commissioners want us to trust them, trust that they are making the best decision for the long term. Trust comes when commissioners listen to citizens and communicate why their decisions are in the best public interest. Trust does not come when commissioners will not listen to citizens. Unless they are able to communicate why this decision is best for all citizens of Sarasota they will lose whatever trust they have been able to generate.
Commissioner Shelin made a significant campaign issue of accountability, he followed up with citizen workshops that discussed accountability of public servants. Many people contributed their time and effort in this process. The citizens did this because there is a growing feeling that the character of Sarasota is being lost and that the commissioners are not listening to the citizens. Was this discussion of accountability only a passing fancy or is their some substance behind this principle?
Will our commissioners be accountable when they make a decision on the Pineapple Square term sheet on Monday? Will they make an effort to explain to the citizens the dollars and cents of this deal. Will they explain why they refuse to listen to independent experts; experts that have been chosen to determine the value of our city's valuable downtown land, experts that have indicated that this project will increase the need for downtown parking spaces, experts chosen by the commissioners to give advice on investing TIF dollars? Or do they view themselves as politicians not subject to accountability, not accountable to the citizens that chose them to make decisions in the best interest of all the citizens and to communicate their reasoning?
We will find out on Tuesday.