Board of Directors accuses the city of unauthorized transfer of $400,000 for a capital project | sarasota

In August 2021, the Sarasota Downtown Improvement District Board of Directors approved capital expenditures of $400,000 for a future Main Street “complete street” project – when and if it should happen. produce.

What the members of the DID board of directors did not expect was to find $8,000 in their bank account, the $400,000 having been transferred to a fund to pay for the project, which, Currently, there is no other municipal, state, or federal money — the latter two being sued — in the project funding pipeline.

At the City Commission meeting on August 15, DID chairwoman Eileen Hampshire said the credit was improper and her board wants the money returned to her account.

After dissolving in a debate between Hampshire and commissioners over the loss of street side parking in favor of aesthetics and a parking structure – and even more over whether the Bay Runner trolley that DID helps fund is actually beneficial to business owners who pay in the special tax district – City Manager Marlon Brown explained that it comes down to optics.

The $400,000, Brown said, remains available to DID for its maintenance and budgeted projects, including planning for an arts festival. In the meantime, as the city seeks state funding for the Main Street project, it must show that it has “skin” in the game — in this case in the form of the pledge in capital from DID.

A request for state funding for Main Street improvements was denied in the last legislative session, and any possible future success, Brown said, will require a demonstration of significant municipal buy-in.

“I would advise the commission not to touch that money, because what lawmakers like to see is that the government has its skin in the game,” Brown said. “By removing this money, it shows that it is no longer becoming a priority of this commission and the city. … When we make this request again in the coming year, it shows the state that the money is still available to be used.

Whether that amount of skin is needed at the present time, Mayor Erik Arroyo observed, is up for debate, as is whether a grip on how much will be needed should be removed from the DID at the present time.

“At the end of the day, it’s about the fact that we have a grip on the money that we don’t really use because we’re applying for state grants, and we don’t know when this project is going to happen. “, Arroyo said. “We don’t know when the state is going to match it. What degree of support should the State expect from us? … There’s no number, they just need to see some membership and we can put that hold in many other places.

Concluding that the matter will not be resolved in one meeting, by a vote of 4 to 1, with Commissioner Hagen Brody dissenting, the commission approved a future session with the DID board to settle the dispute.

Has the city center benefited?

Before coming to this collegial conclusion, Hampshire and Brody wondered if what’s good for the city center as a whole is directly beneficial to the DID, which, in addition to funding aesthetic improvements and special events, contributes $50,000 a year to the Bay Runner Trolley that runs between downtown and South Lido. Beach.

Hampshire conceded that the Bay Runner is much more successful than it thought, but it is doubtful that the DID will really benefit, which is why the council has resisted the city’s request for financial support for the project. three-year-old pilot.

“On August 31, 2021, City Manager Marlon Brown attended our meeting to ask the DID Board of Directors for $150,000 in funds for the operation of the Bay Runner,” she said. “He emphasized that this was a request, not a request, and all would be appreciated. He received lukewarm support. The city later confiscated $150,000 in DID funds for the cart.

In September, the city commission voted to return the $150,000 to DID, which in turn approved a $50,000 contribution to the cart “as a sign of good faith,” Hampshire said. Yet the precedent was set, Hampshire charged, for the city to reallocate DID funds “at will”.

Brody accused the DID of staying on the sidelines of projects that benefit its members rather than supporting them financially.

“I feel like sometimes DID doesn’t contribute some of these big-ticket items in hopes that the city will just pick up the slack and do it without DID involvement,” Brody said. “It’s frustrating because I know the DID is going to benefit from it and so does the trolley, so it’s nice to hear you agree that the trolley benefited the neighborhood.

Hampshire clarified its remark on the Bay Runner.

“I didn’t say that,” she said. “I said I thought the cart was a good idea. I think it’s been good for Sarasota. I’m not entirely sure it benefits the district.

“We can redirect it to the district and see if anyone objects,” Brody replied. “I can tell you we’ve had 70,000 passengers on the trolley since it was launched in February. It’s been an unprecedented success. And just the reluctance to acknowledge that is frustrating.

Brody applied a similar sentiment to the Main Street improvement project, saying that what’s good for downtown makes the city stronger and, by extension, DID. Hampshire argued that town center improvements did not necessarily benefit businesses in the district. Removing on-street parking near businesses in favor of aesthetics and moving those spaces into a parking deck, she cited as an example, discourages customers.

Brody bristled at the idea, saying the days of customers expecting to park in front of businesses they visit are over.

“We can argue all day that you should be able to walk two blocks to a store, but the fact is people don’t, so I can’t change the perception that people have,” said Hampshire. “I can’t tell you how many times people said to me, ‘I was going to get in but there was no parking lot, so I went to the other store down the street.’ … We can’t tell people what to think, and they think if they can’t park at the door, they’ll go somewhere else.

With no consensus on the issue that sparked the tense discussion in sight, Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch brokered the deal in the form of a motion to hold a special meeting between the City Commission and City Council. DID administration, calling the dispute over funds a communication deficit.

“The conflict is really that it was our bank account,” Hampshire said. “And if this (Main Street project) comes to fruition, we will have $8,000, so there will be no DID. There is no point in five people meeting 12 times a year.

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