A measure allowing city staff to put out a request for proposal (RFP) to find a design team for the first phase of a parking garage to be constructed on State Street was narrowly approved by City Commissioners 3-2 on Monday.
The city is contractually obligated to build the garage because of. The garage, which is lined by State Street and Lemon Avenue, would be required to have at least 300 parking spaces.
Approved in December 2010, the Pineapple Square project requires the city to build the garage within four years of that date. The plan to build the garage is a two-year process.
City staffers said the garage could also include a hotel, retail, residential spaces or even a drug store. Those decisions, however, have not been made. Steve Stancel, chief planner for the city, said after a firm is selected they will then come up with the design for the garage.
Stancel said a garage at the State Street location has been in the city's downtown master plan and in the parking plan.
"[Those] plans called for centralized parking facilities throughout the downtown," Stancel said. "It would allow people to park in the location and walk to various destinations."
Robert Bartolotta, city manager, said the decisions about size, design, amenities would be decided during phase I, which he said includes a community vetting process.
Phase II of the garage would then go out to bid, probably with the first firm, and then the city would set a guaranteed maximum price for the garage.
While staff is proposing having the property be mix-use, like the, commissioner Terry Turner questioned the need of some the proposed uses.
"There are some aspects of this that I’m concerned about," Turner said. "Most of the them center around cost and timing. The sooner this comes online the sooner we start bearing operating costs."
Turner added that he was uncomfortable with the 'build it and they will come model' when it comes to retail and residential space in the garage.
"I would want to see [the retail space] pre-sold," Turner said. Without some of the extra amenities Turner said the garage could get done "pretty cheaply with money left over to do other things downtown."
Commissioner Shannon Snyder agreed. "I think sometimes you don’t try to get the home run if you can get a good double," he said.
Staff's plan also talked about the potential or affordable housing at the site, but commissioners said in today's real estate climate there is enough affordable housing in the downtown area already.
Bartolotta said waiting might not be in the best interest of the city because of low construction costs, but when it comes to garage specifics no decision has been made. "We are not closing the door on any potential use," he said.
Stancel added that Monday's approval just moves the specifics of the garage out into the public discussion.
"What we are suggesting, we start off marketing that space and have [those discussions] become part of the public vetting process," Stancel said. He said a business could come in during phase one and make a proposal as the options get vetted out.
"The city does not want to be the developer, but we don’t want to negate opportunities," said commissioner Paul Caragiulo.
Randy Welker, economic developer for the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, said a developer is always going to be biased toward development. The garage project, he said, is no different.
"A guy like me is always going to say push ahead," Welker said. "I believe in economic development. In many times we miss markets. He said he is currently talking to many companies who are interested in the parcel, already. "Right now is an opportune time to do things. I encourage you to keep that in mind."