Benderson Development will get a crack at presenting a plan for a shopping center on the highly coveted corner of Fruitville and Beneva roads.
The City Commission voted 3-2 Monday night in favor of the sale of 11 acres of land at 400 N. Beneva Road, for $1.5 million, but the closing of the sale and details will take some time due to contractual agreements. Vice Mayor Willie Charles Shaw and Commissioner Shannon Snyder dissented.
Competing developer and received scathing remarks about
The city will still own the land while Benderson proposes a site plan for approval, giving the commissioners power and say what goes there, City Attorney Robert Fournier said. The deal will not close until the site plan is approved, he said.
"The city will close knowing what type of project it is," Fournier said.
That appealed to Commissioner Paul Caragiulo.
"If we don't like it, or neighbors don't like it, we're not bound by anything," he said.
Benderson will also have to pay $3 million for the property if no vertical construction happens two years after closing or if all permits were secured to relocate and pipe a drainage ditch on the property, and 85 percent of linear footage on the ditch was not complete, Fournier added.
Larry Fineberg, executive director of Benderson, told the commission during prior meetings Benderson would plan to build a 110,000-square-foot shopping center as well as helping with the relocation of the fire department training facilities.
Commodore, who owns the Sarasota Crossings shopping center that features a , just north of the property, lost out on the deal with its proposed mixed-use development with restaurants and a bank. It appears that a controversial mailer sealed Commodore's fate.
Mayor Suzanne Atwell quizzed Commodore consultant Brian Lichterman of Vision Planning on the mailer.
"What's this? Who do this go to? Is this what's happening?" Atwell said holding up the postcard as she drilled Lichterman.
Lichterman explained the card was sent to 15,000 residents who live within a mile of the intersection and was intended to show that a big shopping center "could look like there."
"Maybe this is a little bit of exaggeration, but the intent of it is educating people," Lichterman said.
"Is this educating?" Atwell shot back.
"This just reminds me of negative advertising trying to sway someone," Atwell said later. "… It's very manipulative, I have to say, because some of the emails I received say that people are scared to death that this is what's going up there. It's pitting the neighborhoods against the developer."
She later said Lichterman was "hijacking the process here."
The sale process itself was criticized by several residents and by Commissioner Shannon Snyder, but Fournier said that the city is allowed to sale property when approached by someone, or send out a request for proposal or through public auction.
In this case, Benderson Development approached the city two years ago to begin this deal, according to city staff.
To Commissioner Terry Turner, it didn't make sense to issue a request for proposal at the start because the economy was bad and the bids wouldn't be high.
"For me, it's not a question of what's the best cash in our pocket today," Turner said. "What's going to be the best project for Sarasota in a 25-year timeframe?"
Shaw voted against the deal, considering it a "sweetheart deal" and thinks the battle between developers, which included Commodore complaining about Benderson pulling tenants out of other properties, is about who gets Publix.
Publix is currently in the Commodore-owned Sarasota Commons just yards away from the property.
"We went from $1.4 to $3 million over the battle of a Publix," Snyder said. "That's what it's all about — whoever builds it, will get a nice Publix there."
City Chief Planner Steve Stancel said two neighborhood workshops and four public hearings would be required for the Benderson project "before any shovels hit the ground."