Sarasota Mooring Field Article
Rarely has a civic issue been so filled with multi-dimensional problems as the city’s thrust to construct a mooring field — slated to begin June 21 — in the most exquisite portion of Sarasota Bay, between Marina Jack and Selby Gardens. According to the city’s own report, the wasteful plan will cost taxpayers approximately $17.5 million over the next 20 years, with no concrete benefits.
A host of powerful reasons — legal, fiscal, environmental, aesthetic, human rights, and monopoly-related — underlie why this plan must be stopped.
Construction would likely dilute and permanently alter the French Riviera-like beauty of this sailboat-adorned bay – the charismatic jewel of downtown Sarasota. The natural look, rather than the organized plan the city is pushing to institute, is unique in Florida and rare in the entire world. Tampering with this sublime gem would be a tragic loss to the city.
The plan is engendering resentment among diverse demographic segments – from wealthy retirees to international tourists, condo and business owners. Too many unanswered questions/loopholes exist, too many concerns of legal improprieties, railroading a plan through against the wishes of the citizenry, and a power grabbing thrust by the Marina Jack Corp., the entity slated to manage it.
There was no rigorous cost-benefit analysis offered to taxpayers, documenting why a project – of such nebulous and questionable benefits — warrants spending so much in these brutal recessionary times, when the city is oppressed by a $9 million deficit. Wouldn’t this expenditure far better be allocated for social programs, health care, education, and job creation?
The travesty is that while the plan costs $1 million, the City is giving Marina Jack a deal: lowering its rent from 3.5% to 3.0% of gross sales, in exchange for operating the fields – leading to the estimated $17.5 million in lost tax revenue. Taxpayers would bear the burden for this sweetheart deal between Marina Jack and the city. Such deals are only justifiable if private investors can demonstrate compelling benefits to taxpayers, clearly not the case here.
It is unacceptable that there was no open bidding process for this contract, given that Marina Jack already profits from managing the downtown yacht harbor and O’Leary’s, plus being landlord to downtown boat rentals and LeBarge. Doesn’t the city have an obligation, to citizens, to spread the wealth beyond one corporate entity — one already enjoying what many consider over-arching power in Sarasota? (Unlike other downtown restaurants, MJ does not pay property taxes.)
If the plan moves forward, Marina Jack’s power grab would expand to the entire downtown bayfront, giving them monopoly control for decades. Many feel this project represents a conflict of interest: a profit making entity managing a not-for-profit operation, eliciting widespread cynicism about claims that Marina Jack would not profit from their managerial role.
The plan’s later phases will entail the environmentally risky dredging of the bay, and drilling into the bay floor to install 109 mooring holes, sparking concerns this could stir up the lead/arsenic documented in the immediate area. Many are outraged that this threat to the bay’s health is moving ahead without a detailed environmental impact study, independent oversight by an environmental entity, and meticulous documentation throughout the proposed three phases.
An injunction is urgently needed, to allow time for necessary legal, environmental and fiscal review, to satisfy citizens’ legitimate pressing concerns. The City Commission exists to serve taxpayers. We hope it urges a delay, pending full disclosure, a detailed cost-benefit analysis, and environmental impact study – the accountability taxpayers deserve.
We urge all concerned citizens to speak out at the City Commissioners’ meeting: Mon., June 15, 2:30 and 6 p.m., City Hall.
Jenny L. Rosenbaum, waterfront condo owner, and Capt. Ken Delacy
Sarasota Bayfront Alliance, a Coalition of Concerned Citizens