thrive in region
If it weren’t for the city’s partnership with the Salvation Army, more than 1,500 needy men, women and children in North Port — some of them homeless — wouldn’t be given groceries each month.
The Salvation Army doesn’t have a building here. Its leaders in Venice say there’s no funding for one. But instead of forcing North Port residents to go to the Venice facility for food and rental assistance, The Salvation Army worked with officials to open a satellite office inside the city-owned North Port Community Educational Center, along Pan American Boulevard. Last year, it served more than 29,000 residents.
In addition to The Salvation Army, the city also leased land to the nearby Florida Center to build a freestanding facility to help serve children with disabilities who previously had to be driven to Sarasota for the same services. The city also has leases with the Women’s Resource Center, the North Port Senior Center, the North Port Art Center and the Senior Friendship Center.
“Without that public-private partnership, the art center would be without a building,” said NPAC member Louise Hall, who lobbied for additional space near the old planning facility on Sam Shapos Way that the city gave the center for $1 per month. The city spent $50,000 to move a portable from State College of Florida in South Venice to a spot near the art center. “We had a building fund, but used it to renovate the two (city) buildings. We are still working on fundraisers to one day build our own building,” said Hall, who also works as a correspondent for the Sun.
In return for the partnership, the center provides free art classes for children, and the gallery is open to the public.
“There are several public-private partnerships both large and small in North Port,” City Manager Jonathan Lewis said. “You could consider the (Early Bird) Kiwanis teaming up with the city for the annual (free) fishing for kids tournament. There are also public-public partnerships. Like public-private, some work and others don’t.”
Anyone who drives along the four-laned section of Toledo Blade Boulevard also receives the benefits from a public-private partnership.
More than a decade ago, Toledo Blade was a failing road riddled with potholes. In order for any new major developments to be built along the corridor, the road needed to be fixed. The only problem was the city, which collected less than $100 per standard household for the Road and Drainage District, didn’t have $12 million saved to rebuild the road.
Neal Communities, Centex Homes, Benderson Development and Sovereign National Property Company partnered with the city to bring the widening project to fruition. Pat Neal called it a “win-win-win situation for everyone,” and a model of how cooperation between city government and private developers should work. Now there’s a grocery store, a pharmacy, townhouses, restaurants and an ER along Toledo Blade Boulevard.
The city jointly purchased the 81-acre Warm Mineral Springs Day Spa with Sarasota County for $5.5 million in 2010. Since then, some residents have wondered if the partnership can continue to work with the county if either agrees to bring the private sector into the mix.
North Port Mayor Linda Yates repeatedly said during recent meetings that government has “no place” in the private sector. She and city commissioners Rhonda DiFranco and Cheryl Cook voted to sell the Springs in its entirety. Yates said it should go back to private hands if there’s a proposal for development, such as a hotel, anywhere on the property. Cook said she wouldn’t want the city to be responsible if a hotel went bankrupt. The commission will revisit the Springs issue at a 1 p.m. meeting Monday at City Hall.
For Sarasota, Charlotte and numerous other Florida counties, commingling public-private dollars for projects creates economic engines for higher-paying jobs, environmental preservation, transportation solutions and safety issues, and ultimately helps save taxpayers’ money.
Last year, Gov. Rick Scott praised Charlotte County for its public-private efforts in bringing Riviera Beach, Fla.-based food distributor Cheney Brothers Inc. to the area. Through the public-private partnership, future plans include building a 250,000-square-foot distribution center in Charlotte — a nearly $30 million capital investment to bring an estimated 380 jobs to Punta Gorda, with wages averaging $36,000 annually, plus benefits.
In Sarasota, a public-private deal between Marina Jack and the city of Sarasota dates back to 1968. Since then, Marina Jack has privately financed more than $10.5 million in dock facilities and improved amenities for the marina without any subsidies from the city. Marina Jack assumes all storm and insurance liability for the city-owned asset, and generates a payroll of about $3.5 million annually with 150 employees, according to its owner, Bob Soran.