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Benderson Development Gets Fruitville/Beneva Land Deal

Sarasota City Commission agrees to sell 11 acres at 400 N Beneva Road to Benderson Development for $1.5 million

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."

tom August 21, 2012 at 02:56 AM
I have only one question.....If this was the commissioner's money and not the taxpayers....would they have accepted the 1/2 price bid???? I bet not !!! What a joke.....Benderson has them in their pocket....AGAIN.
TJ August 21, 2012 at 12:18 PM
Since the commission has executed a deal with taxpayers money, I think there should be a level of transparency as to what the TAXPAYERS paid for that property, what the property appraised value is. The city and the county purchased land during the real estate boom at top dollar. Is this one of the purchases? Great example of wasteful spending is Payne park playground off busy 301 where kids enjoy gas fumes as they play from the cars. Realistically, do we need another shopping center just because it would offer another Publix? As for reprimanding Commodore Realty over a postcard to surrounding residents, perhaps the commission should have done the same thing to make the taxpayers aware of a proposed deal was in the works with their money. Commissioners, you are not realtors. Taxpayers deserve transparency. Stop using our money with your under the radar deals, we should not find out about major issues like this through a newspaper. You are elected officials, start acting like you are acting in the best interest of the taxpayers, especially during these hard economic times, we do not need another shopping plaza across from 2 existing ones, respect those taxpayers too!
Jason Doppler August 21, 2012 at 12:58 PM
Government of the people, by the privileged, for the corporation. Welcome to America.
James Lee August 21, 2012 at 01:20 PM
I cannot believe the city would sell public land without public knowledge and imput! It's a terrible site for any type of shopping and besides, across the street there are empty stores, at the COMMONS there are empty stores and Benderson has empty stores. We need more?

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