We join everyone who wants a new, beautiful Bayfront Park. However, we do have serious concerns about the upcoming partnership agreement between the city of Sarasota and nonprofit Bay Park Conservancy, formerly the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization (SBPO).

We led last year’s City Coalition of Neighborhoods City-Wide Lease Committee, and after a thorough review of dozens of leases, we identified numerous deficiencies in existing long-term city leases and agreements. Last spring, we presented a white paper with several recommendations to the City Commission that have not yet been fully implemented.

Currently, the city and BPC are preparing a partnership agreement that visualizes expenditures of $100 million to $150 million and nearly a half-century of partnership. Costs of up to $470 million (nearly half a billion dollars) are anticipated — if all new buildings are included.

Well-meaning professional citizens and philanthropists lead the BPC and believe that the grand vision will be mostly funded with private donations and grants. In fact, the draft partnership agreement lists several specific city financial obligations, including capital for new infrastructure and parking facilities, operations and maintenance, adding millions to the city’s annual budget.

Proponents of the BPC have compared it to New York City’s Central Park Conservancy. However, according to attorney Dan Lobeck, “although it has been pointed out that NYC’s Central Park is governed by a conservancy, there are at least two differences. First, its board consists of 69 members rather than the 12 of BPC, thereby broadening responsibility. Second, and most important, 75 percent of the funding for the Central Park Conservancy comes from private donations. There is no such commitment by BPC, but to the contrary, the only commitment in the proposed agreement is funding by taxpayers of the city of Sarasota — an open-ended commitment without limit.”

We recommend that, similar to the Central Park Conservancy, the city set a defined maximum limit to the percentage of city tax contribution.

We recommend the city extend its own arbitrary deadline to gather expertise to perform the due diligence necessary to protect city taxpayers. Ed Smith Stadium and Benderson Park are two great examples (in this case, by Sarasota County) of poorly written agreements that are costing taxpayers additional millions of dollars.

We recommend that specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound (SMART) partnership language be included regarding committed funding percentages, applicable regulations and procedures, mandatory citizen involvement, and broader termination language, in case the partnership fails. Too many soft words like “where practical” and “aspire” and “reflect” provide wiggle room and such terms need to be removed from the partnership agreement.

For over five years, a group of approximately 60 local stakeholders met under the name Bayfront 20:20, adopted a vision and strong principles, and served as the de facto citizens advisory group to SBPO. We recommend that Bayfront 20:20 stakeholders have a permanent advisory role and that at least a quarterly meeting of the stakeholders be required and jointly called by both boards.

More information about these issues and organizations can be found at https://thedetail.net/about/ and https://www.thebaysarasota.org/about

Please attend the City Commission hearings on this matter on Monday, March 18. Isn’t extending the artificial deadline a month or two, to get this agreement right, reasonable and important?

Mary Anne Bowie and Jim Lampl are city of Sarasota residents.