Sarasota City Commissioners voted 4-1 Monday to put a pause on proposals to build on the Fillmore Drive parking lot on St. Armands Circle. There were five proposals in total, ranging from $5 million to $11.8 million in development costs.
What got in the way of voting one in were recommendations from both City Attorney Robert Fournier and City Manager Marlon Brown, who pointed out the requirements of a parking-garage bond that ends in 2038, paid for by 268 paid parking spaces that generate income on the lot and two adjacent streets.
Ideas to develop the Fillmore Drive surfaced last year when JWM Management in May presented commissioners with conceptual plans to build a hotel, grocery store and residence mixed-use project. JMW's unsolicited proposal had no competitors at the time, and city commissioners in August opened the floor to other developers. Those who came to bid in addition to JWM were Gregory Thomas Leonard, Jebco Ventures/Property Markets Group and Ocean Properties. The fifth option, a $5 million bid from Martin Hyde, was largely symbolic, making the point that if the city were to sell the lot, it should be a competitive selection process.
In 2016 and 2017, the commission pledged the parking space revenues to fund the construction of the St. Armands public parking garage. "The city can't interfere with that stream of revenue. That's why I caution the reduction of any of those spaces," Fournier explained.
In order to comply with the bond covenant, a developer would have to restore all those spaces permanently and cover the cost of the temporary loss of the spaces during construction, which would take roughly 18 months. The permanent loss of any of the spaces would violate the covenant.
"The developers should have taken that into account since we spoke of it in October," Fournier added, but none of the proposals addressed it. In addition to replacing the 268 spaces, the city's zoning code also demands that a hotel include 105 private spaces, in addition to the 268 restored spaces. Fournier was doubtful of the economic feasibility of a developer to fulfill those requirements. Plus, with a maximum building height of 35 feet, making room for all those spaces might prove unrealistic.
City Manager Brown said that paying out the bond at the earliest date possible, in 2027, would cost the city $16 million.
St. Armands Circle residents have continually pushed back against proposals to raise maximum heights in the area, which JMW's project proposed. In an online public workshop, Chris Goglia, president of the St. Armands Residents Association, indicated that a Residents Association survey found that 75 percent of 125 respondents were opposed to a 10-foot height increase. But overall, an overwhelming majority of area residents opposed all the proposals, and public commenters at the Monday meeting pointed again to traffic congestion, evacuation and pedestrian safety, and ruining St. Armands' charming character as main points of contention.
Despite that, a developer could return with a revised offer.
As JWM's John Meshad said at the proposal presentation to city commissioners in May, “We simply wanted to start the game with a serve."