A rendering of a food court for downtown Sarasota

A rendering of the two-story, eight-tenant food court development that EDM Realty Partners, LP, proposed to build on part of Paul N. Thorpe Jr. Park in downtown Sarasota.

The Sarasota City Commission on Tuesday rejected a proposal to sell part of downtown's Paul N. Thorpe Jr. Park to a developer with plans to turn part of the land into a two-story food court and bar.

The vote followed an initial meeting on the proposal by developer EDM Realty Partners, LP that was held in December. After wide opposition to the plan emerged, the commission voted to delay the discussion until this week.

The vote follows years of legal wrangling over the parcel, located at the intersection of S. Pineapple Avenue and Lemon Avenue. Last year, a judge found the City of Sarasota to be the rightful owner of the 30-foot-wide piece of land, which is adjacent to the Northern Trust parking garage alongside the park. EDM, the New York City firm that claimed the land didn’t belong to the city, filed an appeal after that decision, but the company meanwhile proposed another solution: EDM would buy the parcel from the city for $275,000.

According to the offer, the space would be used to build a two-story, eight-tenant food court with rooftop seating and tables on the ground floor. Plans included two restrooms on the bottom floor for customers and the public and one on the second floor. The tract of land slated for the parcel was appraised for $990,000.

The plaintiffs made a presentation to the City Commission about their proposal yesterday. Presenters included architect Mark Sultana; a Ringling College of Art and Design student who worked in tandem with Sultana; EDM’s legal representative, Icard Merrill attorney William Merrill III; and EDM president Jonathan Mitchell.

Roughly two dozen public speakers shared their input. Three speakers favored the idea of a food court, saying it would staunch homeless activity and "reactivate" the park they claimed was underutilized by the public. Other speakers included Thorpe's daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Davis, who urged the city to retain the green space amid the brisk development taking hold of the downtown core. "Once city land is gone, you can't ever get it back," she said. Those who opposed the sale also cited concerns about increased traffic and noise, specifically for residents of The Mark, located next door to the park.

Paul Thorpe Park is approximately 10,890 square feet. The size of the disputed parcel is approximately 5,409 square feet—roughly half. Although Mitchell said the project "would not detract from the park," it would have required removing the existing pergola, benches, swing and landscaping.

Even though moving forward with EDM's proposal would have led to a settlement of the lawsuit between the city and EDM and keep EDM from appealing, City of Sarasota Attorney Robert Fournier advised commissioners "to stay the course and go through the process," since he felt the city is in a good position to win its case. He also highlighted that more than $425,000 had been spent on litigation thus far, on top of $1.3 million for the park's recent renovation. 

"It would be a land grab at best, and extortion at worst," said public speaker Sheryl Gauthier.

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