Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

City Talk of Moving G.wiz Dies

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

City Talk of Moving G.wiz Dies

Article excerpt


SARASOTA: Commissioners find there are obstacles to selling the bayfront land

The idea to kick out a popular children's science center to sell the coveted bayfront land beneath it is dead.

City commissioners on Monday were supposed to discuss moving the Gulf Coast Wonder and Imagination Zone -- commonly known as G.WIZ -- so they could sell the land to offset city debt.

Instead, the commissioners will consider extending the museum's lease on Monday.

Tentative plans to move G.WIZ came as a surprise earlier this month and quickly stirred the ire of community members and the nonprofit's leaders, who said the space was worth more than a quick million dollars to the city.

But all the drama was unnecessary.

Commissioners thought they might be able to package the 2.7-acre G.WIZ property with an adjacent 1-acre property that is vacant and valued at $1 million.

It turns out the city cannot sell the 1-acre property anyway -- at least not without navigating legal red tape.

Nor would the city be able to break the lease with G.WIZ, which expires in 2020, Sarasota City Attorney Robert Fournier said. The museum has rented the property since 1998 and has invested more than $4 million in the 33,000-square-foot building.

City Commissioner Shannon Snyder, who proposed uprooting G.WIZ to pay off a fraction of the city's pension debts, admitted that commissioners got ahead of themselves.

"It is a lesson learned," said Snyder, who also warned that Sarasota's poor financial picture will inevitably enrage groups and programs that could lose as the city looks to sell off assets like real estate.

"Its a moot point," Snyder said about the G.WIZ situation. "But there's other property out there that should be looked at. We're that desperate on the financial part of it."

That the museum is here to stay will be good news to donors who are the organization's primary funding source, said Molly Demeulenaere, executive director of G.WIZ.

"They're not threatening now to kick us out of our building, which is good," Demeulenaere said. "It's still really a careless thing that they did, which affects the organization. …

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