Symphony in the Park: What is the Cost?



A bit of history informs us the Payne Park land was donated by the Payne family to our city for recreational and kindred uses. Key word is kindred.

When I was a city commissioner (1993-2001), we closed what was once known as 'The World's Largest Trailer Park' on the land now known as Payne Park. In 1994, we began the very difficult and extremely expensive closure process, buying, relocating/moving or demolishing and hauling to the dump the 500 to 800 trailers in existence at the time. The best estimate I can find is an average cost of $2,000 per trailer, a total $1 million to 1.6 million.

More money was spent to clear the land of concrete pads, streets, sewer and water lines and other infrastructure to make way for park development. A master plan was approved and Payne Park, phases 1 and 2 were completed and the park was opened in 2005 at a price tag of $8.8 million. Adding all the dollars spent, I estimate the 29 acres of Payne Park cost city tax payers more than $10 million.

Payne Park was developed with Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) dollars, the extra penny used to build parks and improve infrastructure through out the county. The park appeared on the LOST list and was voted by the voters and was built with those dollars. An oversight committee ensures proper use of those dollars.

I believe the use of those LOST dollars for a Payne Park development created a public trust… a trust that was a deal. Certainly that vote and that established trust never envisioned to be turned over to an entity that will basically privatize approximately 20 percent of the park land. After all, the Symphony building and parking lot will not be free to the public as the park land is now.

We really must not think of giving any piece of that high cost land to anyone for private use. I think it may have an investment of $345,000 per acre or more! It might be the most expensive off-the-water piece of property the city owns... and the Symphony wants seven acres? Really?? Wow!

I close with another major worry. The gift to the symphony sets up a performing arts hall situation that directly conflicts and competes with our city-owned, very successful Van Wezel Hall. The symphony halls have to book events other than just their own musical performance. It makes me scratch my head in disbelief that it is even being seriously considered.

Dear city mothers and fathers, please consider the great investment we have made, think about the property value, the competition with Van Wezel and the beautiful green space in close proximity to downtown. We really need to preserve our beautiful park and continue with phases 3 and 4 to complete the dream!

Mollie C. Cardamone is a former Sarasota city commissioner and mayor.

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