Sarasota-Bradenton Airport Office Park May Be Gaining Steam

Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport might begin to see progress this year on an office park promised for the last six years by Sarasota architect Frank Folsom Smith.

Smith's Innovation Green was the impetus for seeking permits from four different governments and a planned $9.7 million upgrade to U.S. 301 and University Parkway.

The airport finally received the OK to build on nearly eight acres just east of its entrance on University Parkway more than a year ago. Yet Innovation Green appeared to go dormant.

There was plenty of activity below the surface, however, as Smith was bringing in business partners, and airport chief Fred Piccolo was pushing for a higher base rent.

The details emerged Monday, minutes before the Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority convened its monthly meeting.

Piccolo said the new lease would head off litigation and give both sides a chance to catch up with today's market.

The authority approved the outline of a new lease that will relieve Smith of a Jan. 28 deadline to start construction and give him until Aug. 1, 2007.

The new agreement will give Smith a chance to extend the ground lease to 99 years. Smith's attorney, John Patterson, said that term is what potential tenants around the country will expect.

Instead of 17.5 cents per square foot, the airport will charge 34 cents per square foot for the use of up to 7 1/2 acres.

If Smith's group uses all the land available, Piccolo said the new terms would generate about $130,000 each year.

Smith, a proponent of New Urban designs and a consultant on green building standards, did not attend the meeting because he was on a long-planned vacation in the Galapagos Islands, Patterson said.

Patterson was joined by Smith's potential partners, retired doctor and downtown developer Mark Kauffman and Burton-Katzman of Bingham Farms, Mich.

The new investors appear ready to get Innovation Green off the ground. Burton-Katzman has signed a letter of intent with Smith and assigned a project manager.

The new agreement will require Innovation Green to have designs for the first building before the airport authority by June 1.

Kauffman, who Patterson said has been talking with Smith for a year-and-a-half, has been involved in some prominent projects. He partnered with David Band to renovate Main Plaza, bringing in the Hollywood 20 movie theater in 1996. More recently, he finished the nine-story Courthouse Centre building.

Smith will be a "significant" partner in Innovation Green, but the partnership agreement isn't final, Patterson said.

A year ago Smith talked about 200,000 square feet of offices, a 150-seat restaurant and possibly a 200-room hotel.

A site plan approved by the city of Sarasota shows about 126,000 square feet of offices and a 50-seat cafe on four acres fronting University Parkway.

Smith's group may opt to use the rest of the land and build a hotel, which Kauffman said would be 100 or 120 rooms.

Although Piccolo said the hotel was one of the main attractions from the airport's point of view, it remains far down the construction time line. The idea is to build up a base of business for the hotel first, Patterson said.

"They need a context to have a hotel that's a decent hotel," he said.

The new agreement will give Smith's group another six years on the lease if it starts building a hotel by Feb. 1, 2011.

In addition to loaning $170,000 toward the permitting process, the airport expended serious political capital in backing Innovation Green, Piccolo said.

"When it comes to dealing with Innovation Green, I'm a pain in the neck," Piccolo said. "I've felt they've not acted in the most expeditious manner possible."

That said, Piccolo urged the airport authority to give Smith a second chance. He has been negotiating with Smith for the past six months, but said the new agreement was delayed in part because of his back surgeries.

The last-minute request raised red flags for airport authority Chairman Paul Sharff.

"You're comfortable because you're doubling the rent," Sharff said to Piccolo. "I'm not comfortable that we got enough rent in the first place."

Sharff pointed out that another airport tenant, Rectrix, is paying 40 cents per square foot. Piccolo said that rate is related to the market for aviation-related space.

Sharff was eventually placated because Patterson agreed to give the authority a chance to review and approve the final lease document next month.



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