The Buzz

By Hannah Wallace February 29, 2004


Sarasota County Administrator Jim Ley and other economic development folks keep talking about "silos" lately but they're not talking about a place to store grain or nuclear weapons. In eco-speak, "silos" are the self-contained universes in which tourism and government officials, chambers of commerce, nonprofits and other groups formulate policy in isolation.


"Because of the unmistakable return of the bull running on Wall street, we have all begun to happily wave at our stockbrokers again-and now with all five fingers." -- Hotel Associates of Sarasota president Charles Githler at the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce Economic Development luncheon in January.

All About Permitting

Figures from local building departments.

Number of construction permits issued in Manatee County: In 1991, 7,320; in 1999, 14,070; in 2002, 17,279; in 2003, 18,472

Construction permit values in Manatee County (representing the value of the structure/job, not the land): in 1999, $464 million; in 2002, $669 million; in 2003, $901 million

Number of single-family home permits issued in Manatee County: In 1991, 460; in 2002, 2,643; in 2003, 3,223

Number of single-family home permits issued in Sarasota County: In 1991; 1,174; in 2002, 2,105; in 2003, 1,981

Number of single-family permits returned (not approved) in Sarasota County in 2003: 9

Value of single-family permits in Manatee County: In 2002, $424.2 million; in 2003, $591.74 million

Value of single-family permits in Sarasota County: In 2002, $400,825,748; in 2003, $410,924,793

Number of commercial permits issued in Manatee County: In 1991, 96; in 2002, 257; in 2003, 270.

Number of commercial permits issued in Sarasota County: In 1999, 93; in 2002, 108; in 2003, 118

Number of acres zoned for residential construction in unincorporated Sarasota County: 60,517; for commercial construction in unincorporated Sarasota County: 3,286

Number of Inspections required for a single-family home in Manatee County: 26 to 36

Number of regulatory agencies involved in permitting a subdivision in Sarasota County: 8

Number of permits that were fast-tracked for economic development reasons in Sarasota County in 2003: 7

Number of permits fast-tracked for economic development in Manatee: 30.

Number of months it takes to complete a DRI (Development of Regional Impact) in Sarasota County: 18 to 24

Number of teardowns in unincorporated Sarasota County: In 1993, 45; in 2003: 197

Number of working days to review a single-family home permit in Manatee County: targeted, 13; actual anticipated days: 20

Number of days to review a new commercial building permit in Manatee County: targeted, 27 days; actual anticipated days, 32 days

Manatee County building department staff: in 1999, 54; in 2000, 58; in 2003, 74

Sarasota County Development Services Business Center Staff (permitting department): In 1999, 186; in 2003, 180

Square footage of largest single-family house ever permitted in unincorporated Manatee County: 17,288 under roof in Lakewood Ranch, belonging to Dick Vitale; in Sarasota County, 28,571 (18,608 under air) on Casey Key, belonging to Fritz and Ping Faulhaber.

Rank of Centex Homes as the company that pulled the most permits in Manatee County in 2003: 1; Number of permits: 268

Rank of DiVosta as the company that pulled the most permits in Sarasota County: 1; Number of permits: 293

Our thanks to Ralph Steinheimer of the Development Services Business Center in Sarasota County and to Jim Lee, Theresa Kersey and Carol Clarke of the Manatee County building and planning departments for their assistance. --Kim Cartlidge

The Cluster Lady

Consultant Pat Scruggs explains the cluster approach now characterizing Sarasota's economic development.

Pat Scruggs of Scruggs & Associates in Portland, Ore., is one of the consultants Sarasota County hired in 2002 to create its latest five-year economic development plan. She's a proponent of the "cluster approach" to economic development, a strategy developed by Harvard economist Michael Porter about 10 years ago and one that Sarasota officials have recently embraced. Basically, clusters are groupings of similar-type firms or organizations that band together to attract more like-minded businesses. Examples include Silicon Valley's information technology cluster, Italy's high-fashion shoe designers and Boston's mutual fund sector. While Sarasota may not have such obvious "clusters," Scruggs and Sarasota business folks have identified groups they think have potential: specialty manufacturing, creative services, life and environmental sciences, and high-tech and entrepreneurism. Sounds good, but will it work?

1. How is the cluster approach different from our past economic development plans?

Clusters build on your strengths instead of chasing what's popular around the country. For example, in the '80s, semi-conductors were popular; in the '90s, it was biotech.

We also involved the private sector right from the beginning. You end up having a lot of champions that way. My experience is that economic development agencies didn't utilize their own companies as part of their marketing tool kits. When companies came to Sarasota, for example, Kathy Baylis [vice president of Sarasota's Committee for Economic Development] initiated the efforts. When you have active clusters, they do the work. Clyde Nixon at Sun Hydraulics will go to his industry show and say Sarasota is a great place to do business. He's selling the community for you.

Another difference is the focus on innovators and entrepreneurs, value-added companies like SinoFresh [an Englewood-based company that developed an over-the-counter nasal spray] that will serve a broader market. Those companies can grow faster because they're not dependent on how many people are coming here to buy T-shirts. Tourists bring in new dollars, too, but the wages of tourism are below livable. Any job below a livable wage and you end up subsidizing such things as roads because there's no tax base.

2. What's unique about Sarasota County?

You have an incredible number of untapped economic assets. The Ringling School of Art and Design and the whole understanding that creative endeavors add to economic development. You have Mote, you have higher educational institutions with leaders such as Dr. Sarah Pappas and Dr. Laurey Stryker who are actively connected to the economic arena. You don't always see that.

3. What's Sarasota's biggest weakness?

You have to get over this north-south conflict. It's your own internal competition that's hurting you. You need to look at Sarasota County like a portfolio. Some places will have manufacturing and other places will have a creative cluster. That's the way it is everywhere. Not everyone will have every cluster. You've got to think bigger.

4. Some say government initiatives don't work, that the private sector brings in new companies. Is the cluster approach just a fad?

The cluster approach is not an industry fad. It's about how you survive the industry fads, really. You're not focusing on any one industry like semi-conductors or biotech. You're making sense of whole industries that are best for your region. It's driven by the private sector. Sarasota County paid for it but it was developed by private sector involvement. You're lucky Sarasota government wanted to get involved. Your county government has a commitment to economic development that's fairly high compared to other areas.

5. Would you consider living and working in Sarasota?

You're going to put me on the spot. I hate the summers [in Florida], but then people are always asking me, "How do you stand the rain in Portland?" I'm really a West Coast culture girl. There is still a frontier mentality out here. It's a little more informal, more t-shirts and Birkenstocks.even among the CEOs.

The Virtual Model Home

A 3-D animated video is Sarasota's latest real estate hotshot.

Realtors, throw away the balsa wood scale model and the glossy brochure. The future of condominium sales tools has arrived in Sarasota in the form of a nifty 3-D animated video that lets potential buyers "walk through" a virtual recreation of the high-rise, from the chandeliers in the virtual lobby to the views from the virtual penthouse's living room.

The Plaza at Five Points and Alinari at The Renaissance of Sarasota are the first two local developments to use the sophisticated new video system, created by Toronto-based Aareas Interactive.

"The response has been tremendous," says Maryann Casey of Michael Saunders & Company, who, with Rick Hughes, is selling The Plaza. "A lot of people just aren't able to use their imagination when they look at floor plans. When they see the video, they're floored; they even send their friends over to see it."

The Plaza video showcases the exterior, motor court, residential lobby, hallways leading to private elevators, and models of the penthouse and one other floor plan. Every single exterior and interior surface treatment-the streetscape's brick pavers, the aluminum windows, the public area's crown moldings, area rugs, lighting fixtures and potted plants-was scanned into a computer and applied to drawings to create the video, says Hugo Mijares, of the ADP Group, the architectural firm that designed The Plaza. Cars whiz by the virtual corner of Main Street and Central Avenue, and smartly dressed people stride by the entrance's gushing fountains. "It's almost like you're there," he says.

Instead of investing in an expensive real model, interior designer Ana Santa Maria of Robb & Stucky created two highly detailed virtual models for the video; she supplied a thick notebook of photos of furnishings and fabric samples that were scanned into the 3-D video drawings to create rooms that are uncannily lifelike, down to the shadows cast by knick-knacks. Interior designer Pamela Hughes did the same for the lobbies and other public spaces.

Photographers used a crane, raised to the height of each floor, to take shots of the different views. When potential buyers can't decide between units, the video can show them exactly what they'll be able to see from floor 11 versus floor 12, for example.

Just a few years ago, Casey had to resort to a more pedestrian tool to sell a condominium project in mid-Sarasota County: the developers erected a temporary scaffold on the property and she would climb to the top of it with potential buyers. "Can you imagine the liability?" she says now.

It took five months to create The Plaza video, at a cost of about $80,000. But it was well worth the investment, both Mijares and Casey say. "With high-rises, we hope to be sold out before the building is completed," says Casey. Thanks to the modern-day miracle of the virtual video, "sales at The Plaza are well beyond our original projection."-Ilene Denton


Does Sarasota have the state's highest impact fees?

Builders and developers often complain that Sarasota County's impact fees are among the highest in Florida. And according to Collier County impact fee analyst Paula Fleishman, they're right.

Fleishman has been collecting impact fee data on commercial buildings and single-family homes for several years, and Sarasota's single-family fee, at $7,176, is consistently ranked in the top five. Still, Collier's impact fee, at $15,288, is the highest in the state. High-growth Collier collected about $62 million in impact fees last year, while Sarasota County collected $19.5 million in 2003, most of it for roads, water and sewer systems.

The state doesn't keep and compare impact fees from each county, but the Sarasota County Growth Management Department took a look at single-family housing impact fees in seven Florida west coast counties in 2003. They ranged from $4,349 in Pinellas to Collier's $15,288. Sarasota County's single-family impact fee may increase to about $9,700 if Sarasota County Commissioners approve another $2,000 school impact fee and an additional $527 for roads.

Impact fees paid by builders or developers are set aside to pay for new roads, parks, libraries, water and sewer lines, emergency services, and in some cases, schools-infrastructure needed as a result of growth. Counties that are built out or growing more slowly have less to benefit from charging the fees, and about half the counties Fleishman surveyed didn't collect impact fees at all.

--Kim Cartlidge


Impact Fees in Southwest Florida: Pinellas, $4,349; Hillsborough, $6,021; Manatee, $7,313; Charlotte, $7,752; Lee, $8,916; Sarasota, $9,703; Collier, $15,288


Florida counties with the highest impact fees for a 2,000- square-foot house in 2001: Collier, $15,338; Lee, $9219; Orange, $8,635; Osceola, $8,451; and Sarasota, $7,944

Source: Paula Fleishman

Save Our Homes

Save Our Homes, the 1994 Florida Constitutional amendment that capped annual increases in homestead property tax assessments at or below three percent a year, has now surpassed Florida's $25,000 homestead exemption to become home owners' largest tax break statewide.

About $117.7 billion in the state's homestead values were not subject to property tax under Save Our Homes in 2003. In Manatee County, that amount was nearly $2.4 billion; in Sarasota County, almost $5.4 billion. According to Florida TaxWatch, that $117.7-billion figure equates to about $2 billion in lost tax revenues.

Not all taxpayers are rejoicing. Owners of second homes and non-homestead properties, and those with additions to their existing primary residence are still assessed at 100 percent of market value, and their tax bills have skyrocketed.

Government officials are worried. So far, rising real estate values and new growth have generated enough tax income in Sarasota and Manatee that commissioners have not had to raise millage or reduce spending. But as growth slows or if real estate prices flatten, this influx of money will not pay for future government services.

Sarasota County administrator Jim Ley is watching interest rates and the real estate market with great concern. Should interest rates rise, Ley says, housing sales will slow, especially sales of second homes and commercial properties. The county could see 40 percent of the tax base paying 60 percent of the property taxes within five years. Fewer part-time residents combined with modest growth could lead to even more disparity in taxes for those who own second homes or commercial property.

Manatee County Property Appraiser Charles Hackney is not fretting-yet. Property values have always gone up, he says. "Our taxable value is up almost 15 percent over last year, so we generated 15 percent more without raising millage." (Sarasota County's taxable value increased 14 percent last year.) Hackney also says home owners generally prefer higher property values to the alternative: "Given the choice of paying higher taxes or watching their property values go down, which would they choose?" --Kim Cartlidge

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