Sunday, February 3, 2019

Keep Our Bayfront in Public Hands

What lies behind the drive to privatizing public land, public services, governmental discretion? The government exists precisely to look after the human polity, in all its needs, hopes and wishes -- all those values that can't be found in Profit & Loss or Mission statements of private corporations. Why are our leaders so eager to give up the very things they are supposed to be guiding and leading? 
See the statement below from a Sarasota attorney, with these questions in mind.

The Sarasota City Commission is being asked by private business interests, organized as The Bay Park Conservancy (BPC), to turn control of 53 acres of City-owned bayfront over to them.

While the plan known as The Bay has much merit, and the private sector has much to offer in fundraising and suggestions for implementing the project, it is important that control of the property remain in public hands, through our elected Sarasota City Commission.

The City Commission is being asked on February 4 to approve a Memorandum which outlines “Essential Terms” to be included in a later Agreement between the City and BPC which will come to the City Commission for approval.  The Memorandum proposes to take far too much power away from the City Commission and grant it to BPC, both explicitly and in vague summaries.

The City Commission should do the following at its February 4 meeting:

1)     Ensure that any Agreement with BPC be subject to a public hearing before it is approved by the City Commission.

2)     Require that BPC be subject to Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law and Public Records Law.  (The Memorandum calls for BPC to be “transparent in its operations” and to have a “good, public process” but omits these specific requirements.  It also states that BPC will “maintain financial records available for review by the City” but does not address their review by members of the public).

3)     Provide that the members of the BPC Board be appointed, and subject to removal, by the City Commission.   (The Memorandum does not state who selects the Board but that its 7 to 15 members will include two non-voting representatives of the City and one non-voting representative of the County).

4)     Provide for an advisory committee to the BPC Board, appointed by the City Commission.  (The Memorandum calls for “an advisory board, where practicable” and does not say who will appoint it).

5)     Explicitly require City Commission approval for any contracts or leases for or on the property, which the Memorandum refers to as The Bay Park (Park) and maintain control over project design and construction.  (The Memorandum states that BPC “will recommend building use, tenant, lease terms, and any other relevant issues for review and approval by the City” but does not require City Commission approval.  However, it also states that BPC “will set fees for concessions, rentals, sponsorships, et al to provide annual earned revenue” and states that all concessions, licenses and permits, other than those of the Van Wezel or Orchestra, will be turned over to BPC by the City and that BPC will determine policy to “handle and manage vendors, sponsors, contractors, concessions, and all sources of earned revenue.”  The Memorandum provides that BPC “will lead design and construction of project improvements”, “BPC will develop construction standards and specifications” and project management and decision-making “will be done collaboratively in accordance with” those standards, whatever that means).

6)     Provide full City Commission control over a detailed City-funded BPC budget.  (The Memorandum proposes to guarantee City funding of BPC’s annual budget for capital, operations and maintenance “based on” a budget that is prepared and “proposed” by BPC “and as is appropriate for a signature City park.”

7)     Keep authority over naming rights for all portions of the Park as well as the Park as a whole.  (The Memorandum, in an apparent negotiated compromise, grants all naming rights to BPC, except that the “City reserves discretion to approve the recommendation of the BPC” as to naming rights “on the entire site or existing buildings.”

8)     Maintain City control over the operations and maintenance of the Park, not just until each phase is built, as proposed in the Memorandum.  If the City must pay for it, it should be able to control it.

9)     Do not grant BPC the right to create parking rules and regulations for the Park, as proposed in the Memorandum.  One example of a potential problem is the extent to which a lessee such as a restaurant should be allowed to reserve public parking for its own exclusive use.   Also, do not provide shared authority to BPC to control parking on Boulevard of the Arts west of US 41, as proposed in the Memorandum through an obligation to “collaborate” on that.

10)  Provide that the Agreement may be terminated at any time by the City Commission or BPC at any time upon certain written notice, or at least make it for a reasonably short term, rather than locking it in for 45 years as proposed, that is for a term of 15 years with “options for two fifteen-year renewals”, presumably by either the City or BPC.  If the Agreement in practice does not prove beneficial to the City, the City should not remain locked in to it.

Dan Lobeck
Attorney, Business Owner, Homeowner and Resident of the City of Sarasota and for Control Growth Now, Inc.
February 3, 2019

1 comment:

  1. So BPC is asking the city to essentially give it 53 acres of prime bayfront and maybe all the improvements on it for free?