The original article by David Conway appeared in the Observer on October 15, 2020.
On Monday, Oct. 19, the Sarasota City Commission could move to formalize an agreement designed to funnel as much as $200 million in property tax revenue over the next 30 years into development of more than 50 bayfront acres surrounding Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
At its next meeting, the commission is scheduled to discuss the creation of a tax increment financing district for The Bay Sarasota project and the creation of a new performing arts center. The board will also consider an interlocal agreement with Sarasota County outlining the terms of the proposed TIF district.
If approved, the TIF district would capture 95% of any increases in city and county property tax revenue from within the district’s boundaries, making that money available to The Bay Sarasota for capital improvements inside the district. The TIF district, a key public funding mechanism for The Bay project, would begin collecting money in fiscal year 2022 and remain in place until 2049.
City and county officials have already endorsed the broad strokes of the proposal. In December 2019, the City Commission voted to approve a series of basic terms for a deal with the county and The Bay Park Conservancy, the independent group working in partnership with the city on the development and management of the bayfront land.
In January 2020, the County Commission agreed to work with the city on a TIF agreement, outlining provisions such as its preferred makeup of the district’s governing body: two county representatives, two city representatives and a representative from The Bay Park Conservancy. A five-member board is included in the draft interlocal agreement the city will consider Monday, with the fifth seat reserved for either a representative of The Bay or a member of the general public.
On Sept. 22, the County Commission voted unanimously to send a draft interlocal agreement to the city for discussion. The board also authorized a public hearing on an ordinance to create the TIF district. On Sept. 9, a majority of the commission expressed satisfaction with the draft agreement as written.
“You’ve heard the key terms that this board wants in this,” County Commissioner Charles Hines said to county staff Sept. 22. “Get with [the city], get it done, and then get it back to us to actually hit that public hearing and hopefully get approval to sign it.”
Bill Waddill, The Bay Park Conservancy’s chief implementation officer, expressed optimism that city and county officials would continue to support the proposed TIF district through final adoption of the interlocal agreement.
“This is the last hurdle to get over,” he said of the funding deal.
Although the County Commission voted unanimously to advance the interlocal agreement to the city, at least one commissioner said his final vote on the creation of the TIF district was uncertain. County Commissioner Christian Ziegler said he hoped The Bay park would become a valuable regional amenity, but he was reticent about steering tens of millions of dollars in property tax revenue toward the project given the uncertain economic state of the county.
“I’m just kind of on the fence because of the optics and where we’re at right now with history,” Ziegler said.
Waddill reiterated that the TIF district would not collect money until fiscal year 2022, when he hoped the region will have recovered from the effects of COVID-19. He also noted that the TIF mechanism does not generate any revenue unless the city and county collect more property tax income than the 2019 baseline.
The Bay is also working to get the city’s approval of the first phase of the park project, a 10-acre segment of the property north of Boulevard of the Arts. Waddill said he hoped the site plan for phase one would go to the Planning Board and City Commission for hearings this winter.
Correction: This article has been updated to correct the proposed makeup of a governing body for The Bay Park Improvement District. The board would include two county representatives, two city representatives and a representative from The Bay Park Conservancy or the general public.