The Sarasota Journal

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Commissioners ready to leave now

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SARASOTA COUNTY –– Sarasota County commissioners are more than ready to leave their digs in the old GTE building on Ringling Boulevard, and a county-owned property on Cattlemen Road could become their new home.

Last December, during their annual retreat, commissioners made leaving the current administration center one of their top priorities, and staff county staff began exploring the idea.

Two weeks ago, commissioners revisited the topic, and gave staff directions to continue exploring a property at 1301 Cattlemen Road next to the county’s Emergency Operations Center. The potential site, if the county were to construct a new facility would front on the road where a building that housed the Planning and Development Services Department once stood.

That structure was demolished years ago.

County Commissioner Alan Maio was clear in his thoughts.

“Get us out of this building,” he said during a May 21 budget workshop.

Downtown Sarasota has long served as the county seat with county offices and commissioners meeting in the Terrace Building at Ringling and Washington Boulevard before the county bought and moved to the GTE building in 1993.

This is not the first time that the county has considered moving its principal building. Over two decades ago, during former County Administrator Jim Ley’s tenure, the county considered moving to a site closer to South County as a way of serving those residents better.

After a hue and cry from city leaders and downtown business owners, the idea was dropped.

With interest rates at an all-time low and property values increasing, commissioners see this as an opportune time to move. And leaving downtown could be a financial windfall for the city as well.

If the city were to allow the development of the Ringling property into a high-rise condominium––and the current city zoning would allow that––the city could realize about $400,000 in property tax revenue if a 10-story building were erected according to county estimates. The county would see $393,000 in revenues according to those estimates.

The property is currently off the tax rolls, so neither government realizes property tax revenues.

Another factor weighing in on commissioners’ desire to move is the age of the administration building––it was built in 1973––and the estimated costs of repairs and maintenance needed.

Jeff Lowdermilk, director of the county’s General Services Department, has studied the building and placed the cost at $32.5 million over the next 10 years. Over the next 20 years, that climbs to $49 million.

Deputy County Administrator Steve Botelho cautioned that those were just broad estimates, not firm figures.

In addition, a little-known report generated a decade ago indicated that the building could not withstand a Category 3 hurricane, placing the county’s EOC, which was then on the sixth floor, in harm’s way.

That prompted the move of the EOC to a newly constructed building on the 1301 Cattlemen Road site. Moving the administration center to Cattlemen, next to the EOC, would promote greater efficiency for staff, Commissioner Charles Hines noted.

And finally, the Cattlemen Road property, as commissioners also noted, the Cattlemen site would allow greater access to South County residents as it’s adjacent to I-75 with exits at Bee Ridge Road and Fruitville Road.

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Warren Richardson
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