BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
SEMINOLE COUNTY, FLORIDA
AUGUST 21, 2012
The following is a non-verbatim transcript of the BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS SPECIAL MEETING OF SEMINOLE COUNTY, FLORIDA, held at 9:00 a.m., on Tuesday, August 21, 2012, in Room 1028 of the SEMINOLE COUNTY SERVICES BUILDING at SANFORD, FLORIDA, the usual place of meeting of said Board.
Chairman Brenda Carey (District 5)
Vice Chairman Carlton Henley (District 4)
Commissioner Bob Dallari (District 1)
Commissioner John Horan (District 2)
Commissioner Dick Van Der Weide (District 3)
County Manager James Hartmann
County Attorney Bryant Applegate
Deputy Clerk Terri Porter
Deputy Clerk Jane Spencer
Commissioner Henley gave the Invocation.
Commissioner Dallari led the Pledge of Allegiance.
CENTRAL FLORIDA ZOO PROPERTY
Bryant Applegate, County Attorney, addressed the Board to give a brief update on discussions with representatives from the zoo and landowners. He stated they’ve worked closely with both Joe Montisano, CEO of the Central Florida Zoo, and the property owner, Sid Vihlen, Jr., and thanked them both for their time and efforts in getting all the required documents for review. Deputy County Attorney Lynn Porter-Carlton is finishing the draft contract at this time. If the requested proposal is approved by the Board, Mr. Applegate stated he will provide the draft contract to Messrs. Montisano, Vihlen and others for their review and approval.
Mr. Applegate stated that in regard to the environmental issues, a Level 1 assessment was done and paid for by the zoo. That assessment concluded that no further investigation was needed. The County Attorney’s office sent the assessment report to County Engineering for review. There were about 4 or 5 comments made by County Engineering staff, and in their opinion, a Level 2 assessment should be completed on the property. In order to expedite the process, they sent those comments back to the firm that did the Level 1 assessment for their comments, and the County Attorney’s office received them back late last night. Mr. Applegate stated that it is up to the Board whether they would like to have a Level 2 assessment done before closing, if in fact the Board decides to enter into a contract.
Chairman Carey stated that the County has 2 or 3 geotechnical firms under contract on a miscellaneous basis and inquired as to whether the geotechnical experts were asked to look at this or whether it was done in house.
Brett Blackadar, County Engineer, addressed the Board to state that they now have Jim Russell on staff. Mr. Russell used to head up the environmental cleanup through the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) contract with Public Works and is now working for the County. Mr. Blackadar stated that Mr. Russell did a thorough review, has a lot of experience working on contaminate issues, and his comments were addressed in the assessment. He stated they have the ability to do some additional testing that has not been done with the geotechnical contracts. One of the things that Mr. Russell recommended was doing some sampling which should be included in the Phase 2 analysis.
After inquiry by Chairman Carey, Mr. Blackadar stated they just received the comments back from the geotechnical firm who originally did the report and will be looking over those right now.
Charles Davis, Board Member of the Central Florida Zoo, addressed the Board to state that the construction cost to build the African Safari is $6,416,630. They included the fact that it will take a 2-year fundraising effort and that the prices of costs and goods may increase. They also added a contingency of 10% and permitting fees; however, they did not add in-kind services. He explained that the zoo has a key group of businesses that give their services for free as in-kind and these businesses will do that on this project as well.
Mr. Davis continued with regard to how they are going to raise the money. They will focus on three elements: natural resources, conservation and education, which will open up the door for them to apply for numerous grants. He stated that with the $6.4 million price tag on the Safari exhibit, it puts them in line for another major project that the zoo has already completed, the Wayne Densch Education Center. He stated the Board is a very hard-working Board and that a year ago, they decided they needed to open another exhibit. They taxed the Board to pay for it along with a sponsorship of one other family; they will be opening up the otter exhibit within the next 2 weeks. He reminded the Commissioners that they have been invited to go and see it. He stated he fully believes between grants and an aggressive fundraising effort by their Board, they can raise the funds to make the project become a reality.
Joe Montisano, Central Florida Zoo CEO, addressed the Board to state the operational budget is in the packet that the BCC received at the July meeting. He stated that the gate price is very low for the proposed Safari Park which gives them a huge advantage over the competition. They averaged the attendance growth up until the next couple of years, until the exhibit actually opens. They used industry-recognized standards for opening a feature of this magnitude and looked at what they should expect in attendance growth and impact. The exhibit has a low operating cost compared to traditional zoo exhibits, which are rather expensive. Estimated revenue is $1.9 million with about a 50% expense rate. Roughly half will go back to pay for it, leaving them with approximately $900,000 that would be reinvested back into the park. The economic impact will be about $2 million to the County based on the formulas that the County puts out and based on average attendance extrapolated out into those formulas. They estimate it will generate about 2,000 room nights a year from out-of-state people coming to visit.
Mr. Montisano stated they were asked to look at the front acreage as well. The proposal from the owner is for $1,148,000, a copy of which the Commissioners already have. He stated they threw in the trailhead on the original plans as an option, and they have asked Javier Omana from CPH Engineers to clarify the trailhead issue.
Javier Omana, CPH Engineers, addressed the Board to state that when the zoo came before them to request funding of the property acquisition, the Board requested that the zoo members step back and look at the big picture of what the implications would be of this expansion and how it would relate to a regional perspective and connectivity relative to the trails. After the meeting, CPH approached the zoo and said they believe they can help the zoo put together a vision to not only justify from the land planning and resort recreation perspective, but to look beyond the 16+ acres and see what the zoo’s potential expansions are on this site given the restrictions they have. Mr. Omana displayed an aerial map of the zoo property (received and filed). He stated the zoo itself is a rectangular parcel and expansion options are somewhat limited because of the extensive wetland system that surrounds the property. The engineers asked what they could do to maximize the expansion opportunities for the zoo and create additional revenue sources, not only for the County and the zoo but also to build in some of those externalities relative to the trail system which they believe go hand-in-hand: economic development, the growth of the zoo itself and the recreational components that are so vital to Seminole County adjoining other counties.
Mr. Omana displayed a map showing the conceptual plan (received and filed) and stated that CPH analyzed the proposed area for a trailhead, and they believe that it is not the optimal location because it is located within a wetland area and is already deemed to be a conservation area. It has severe restrictions and there are limitations relative to visibility, safety, and it is far away from the trail, so it was ruled out and the zoo agreed. He displayed the “Connectivity thru Trails” map (received and filed) and stated there are three major trail systems that abut the property: Riverwalk; Seminole Trail; and with the neighbors to north, the Spring-to-Spring system. CPH believes that connecting these three would create tremendous benefits for recreational opportunities in Seminole County, Volusia County, and for the users of the zoo itself. Mr. Omana stated that connectivity makes perfect sense. He pointed out a 4-acre piece of property for possible expansion to the west and an additional 10 acres to the north where they could expand the green pavilion and create a trail system. He stated that by locating a trailhead to the west, on the 4-acre piece of property which is already permitted for wetland impacts; it offers tremendous opportunities for private/public ventures as far as retail and to provide additional revenue streams for the zoo itself. Also, its proximity to the trails is very good. They also looked at the possibility of creating a “Zoo Spur” that would go from the Riverwalk, down the eastern driveway entrance to the zoo itself. Another opportunity they looked at as far as providing trailheads is under I-4. They have been in contact with Congressman Mica’s office, Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) regarding permitting and it is a viable option. In regard to potentially creating a trailhead at Wayside Park, recreational opportunities include the creation of a bike ferry to cross the river to Lake Monroe Park in Volusia County thus connecting to the trail system. He concluded stating he believes the zoo has come up with some exciting ideas to make this area a true gem.
Upon inquiry by Commissioner Henley, Mr. Omana responded that they did find there is a parking problem when they evaluated Wayside Park. He stated they could provide ample overfill parking if they go with the option for a trailhead under I-4.
Brady Lessard, CPH Engineering, addressed the Board to state that Wayside Park has been very successful. It is capacitated on days when fishing and weather accommodate it. Mr. Lessard stated that the “under I-4” concept is feasible and he believes that it is a very exciting concept from the additional parking to a location for the trail, whether the County or the City is ready to build a big trailhead building today or not. The cost for acquiring the land is negligible; it would be more of a long-term easement with FDOT. He has had conversations with Washington, D.C., and this would end up being more of an FDOT local decision. There is going to be some displacement of shoreline fishermen with Sanford’s Riverwalk currently under design and slated for construction in November. The “under-I-4” concept could add some pedestrian fishing opportunities as well.
Chairman Carey stated the “under I-4” parking is already being utilized in downtown Orlando, so as long as the land would allow for that to happen, she believes it is a great idea.
Mr. Lessard displayed an aerial photograph (received and filed) depicting a rough concept of the proposal. He pointed out that there would be parking under the east/west stretch of I-4 and potentially fishing opportunities on floatable dock systems that would be relatively easy to permit. There are already pedestrian crossings that would accommodate these types of uses. He stated that if the County does have a desire to pursue that concept, with Sanford’s parks project under design with FDOT, FDEP and the Army Corps of Engineers, the permitting book is open, so he would recommend proceeding in haste on that front.
Chairman Carey stated she has gone out on the river in a canoe from Wayside Park during their river cleanups, and it is dangerous due to all the boats coming and going, so having floating docks where canoes could come and go from would make it a whole lot easier.
Chairman Carey disclosed that she serves on the Zoo Board as a representative for the Board of County Commissioners, and the County Attorney has opined that there is no conflict of interest.
Commissioner Dallari stated he believes the zoo needs to expand and the only place to expand is to go west. He stated he would like to move forward with it. He said he believes giving them the opportunity and some type of lease agreement, with a reverter clause, would be appropriate and hopes the Board will see this as a positive to bring in economic development and to continue to expand, not just the zoo but the economic vitality of the zoo, which will bring money back into the County at the same time.
Chairman Carey agreed and stated she thinks this is a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity for the zoo to expand. She stated they need to decide from what funding source they should use to move forward with purchase.
Upon inquiry by Commissioner Henley, Mr. Omana advised that the 10 acres for potential zoo expansion are a combination of wetlands and dry land. He stated within a conservation wetland area, they can create elevated boardwalks for interpretive trails. Out of those 10 acres, less than 20% would be suitable for ordinary-type development.
Chairman Carey confirmed that the 10 acres are not suitable for the zoo expansion project, but they could put a trail there.
Commissioner Henley commended the Zoo Board and said they have done a good job over the years without a doubt. He stated that he wanted, at the same time, to caution them based on the fact that he has been on the Tourist Development Board for several years, and a great deal of the zoo’s plans are based upon information from the American Zoo Association (AZA). Included in that organization is the San Diego Zoo, the St. Louis Zoo, the Memphis Zoo, the Philadelphia Zoo, etc. These are all large zoos which could easily skew the numbers. He stated that if it is sorted down to zoos the same size as theirs with the same demographic, they might get different projections. When the formula used for large zoos is applied here, realistically people are not going to spend the same amount of money. He stated although Mr. Montisano worked hard on the projected finances and it looks pretty rosy, he cautioned them to be very careful about assuming the projections will all materialize. He said the same thing is true with grants. Most grants are competitive and they have experienced both success and failure in getting those. He stated he doesn’t want to see the zoo get in “over their heads” from the standpoint of going to the community to try to get 6-8 million dollars to build the Safari Park and then have a significant increase in the cost. He stated he believes this will be true if the zoo hires 15 people, buys animals and cares for them. He opined they are undertaking a very risky situation with the way the economy is right now and resources may not be available if they need to come back to the BCC for operational funds because the Board has the priority of the sports complex. He stated they have looked at the Tourist Development Council (TDC) reserves, and they had increased the 2 pennies in order to try to get in the financial situation to fulfill the commitment that was made regarding the sports complex. He stated that if they take $1.5 million out of the land-use fund, which is General Fund money, then it would not be available for the sports complex. If they had to replace that with a loan amortized over a period of years, it could almost double; so in reality, they would be paying more than approximately $100,000 an acre. He stated he does not believe it will make them a destination zoo because there are too many others that far outshine this zoo as far as size and other factors. He concluded saying he does not want to see them get into a situation where they cannot fulfill the priority, set a long time ago, of a sports complex; however, he commends the Zoo Board for their efforts.
Chairman Carey stated that the new Zoo Board, which she has been a representative on for a number of years, is very fiscally conservative. The zoo is probably different from some of the other attractions. She stated that if she had small children today, she could not afford to take her family to Disney or any of the other parks because it would cost several hundred dollars just to get in the door, not counting food. At least the zoo is a viable option for local families to go and enjoy; and her children and grandchildren have had the opportunity to go when they visit because there is so much to do at the zoo, not just animals but the splash park and the various exhibits they have there. She advised that some of the domestic flyers at the Orlando-Sanford International Airport are changing their flight times. Allegiant flight schedules have all changed where they are now coming into Seminole County later in the day, with some arriving as late as 11:00 p.m. She stated there is a real opportunity right now for them to try to create better local packages with both the airport and hoteliers, not only for the incoming passengers but also for the flight crews and others who may not want to drive an hour to get to Orlando to spend the night. There is an opportunity to try to do some packaging so that while people are on the in-bound or the out-bound side of their trip, they could take advantage of some of the local attractions and stay in local hotels.
Chairman Carey stated she did not think they should spend the Tourist Development dollars that have been saved. They have about $7.5 million in reserves in that fund right now, and a lot of that was focused on the fact that they wanted to do the sports facility. She thinks it is still the desire of the Board to do the sports facility, and they are trying to get down to the details of where and how big and how much that is going to cost. Estimates for that are $23 million. They have $5.6 million set aside and have not spent any of it since acquiring the land at Five Points. They are looking at spending some of that for a couple of parcels there, maybe $2 million. She stated they could still use the funds to acquire the zoo property from that line and still have about $3.5 million left. She stated she would support taking the money from the land fund that has been set aside, not from Tourist Development. They need to decide if the majority of the Board wants to do it, and if they do, where the Board would want to pull the funds from.
Commissioner Horan stated he approached this from a different methodology; from a straight real estate transaction point of view. Seminole County is going to own the underlying fee simple interest in land as they own the rest of the land. If this is an asset that is going to appreciate, then it is a good asset to put on the books. He stated there is evidence indicating they are paying a fair price for the property. Also, there are certain protections with regard to environmental issues that probably need to be addressed in the closing, but those can be adequately addressed through a due diligence period or possibly some conditions subsequent to closing. He said he believes it is a good real estate transaction to make and a good investment of the people’s dollars and believes it will be a balance sheet asset that will appreciate over the years. He stated it is a good idea to spend the public money to do this, regardless of what the zoo ends up doing or not doing on that particular property. As to the source of funds, it was explained at the work session that the zoo property purchase can be funded out of the TDC funds without depleting amounts that have been collected under the 2-penny measure that was enacted in 2009. The bulk of the destination sports facility money in the reserves is preserved even if they use money out of the TDC funds. He said he is very committed to the destination sports facility; the 2 projects stand on their own and the funding is available for both. He stated he would defer to his colleagues with greater experience on the Board as to where the money should come from. He said he believes it is a good investment and is in favor of the purchase.
Commissioner Van Der Weide stated this is an opportunity they cannot afford to let slip through their hands and has said that from the first meeting. He believes they can do both and are financially sound enough to do both. He stated he thinks they need to move on with it and that this opportunity will not be there forever.
Upon inquiry by Chairman Carey, Commissioners Henley, Dallari, Horan and Van Der Weide concurred that their comments were based on the 16.9 acres initially proposed and not the additional 4 acres that was proposed today, at least at this time.
Commissioner Henley added that he has a lot of grandchildren and great grandchildren, so he would be foolish to be opposed to the zoo; however, he is conflicted because they are looking at $1.4 million and ironically, that is almost the same amount that the County Manager recommended in raises that the Board had some reluctance to do last week when they talked about budget. He stated the school system is their greatest economic engine, and they are in a crisis situation. He stated when looking at what may come down the road in the future, it is scary to him because he is fiscally conservative; however, he is not opposed to it and hopes that Mr. Montisano is 100% correct.
Chairman Carey stated the good news is that even if the analysis is wrong, the operational portion is less than 50% of what the expectation is. She has been looking at the zoo budget for quite some time, and as all of the Commissioners are pretty fiscally conservative, they are on the Zoo Board as well.
Motion by Commissioner Horan, seconded by Commissioner Henley to approve the Central Florida Zoo’s request for $1,450,000 to purchase land (16.9 acres) to create and develop a Wild African Safari Park, with the condition that the environmental issues are adequately addressed prior to the closing.
Under discussion, Chairman Carey stated that Mr. Applegate has drafted a contract with a 90-day due diligence period. In regard to the environmental issues, they can have someone take a look at the comments on the geotechnical report and it may be that the issues have already been satisfied, but they can be worked out during the due diligence period. That would be at the County’s expense, which is pretty typical in a real estate transaction that the buyer would pay for any of those types of reports. If a problem is found during due diligence, they have the right to walk away.
Commissioner Van Der Weide stated they have the reverter clause in there too, which is another protection.
Chairman Carey stated just to clarify to the Zoo Board members, at the last meeting she brought up the fact that the zoo lease expires in 2026. They have had 3 or 4 amendments to that lease, which dates back to 1976. There are some Statute-related items that have changed over the years that need to be cleaned up in the lease, and it is probably better to wrap it all into one new long-term lease. There is also some land in the current zoo lease on the north side of where the trail goes along Lake Monroe that does not need to be included in the lease that they will probably need for the trail. Rather than having to amend the lease and take it out of the lease, they should get all that tidied up right now.
Mr. Applegate stated they have looked at the lease from 40 years ago and it needs to be updated. They have already worked with Mr. Montisano on the insurance requirements and they will draft an entire new lease.
Districts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 voted AYE.
Lisa Spriggs, Resource Management Director, addressed the Board to state that they currently have a land acquisition account that has been used for various purchases with a balance of $5.6 million and is available within the General Fund. They also have currently about $7 million in the Tourist Development Fund reserves that could be available for this purchase. She stated that from a financial standpoint, she always tries to go to the most restricted revenue source first, but this decision may have other factors playing into it. They have talked about using both of those sources for the sports complex also. She stated that if the Board wanted to go from more of a flexibility standpoint, they should go to the tourism dollars first.
Upon inquiry by Commissioner Horan, Ms. Spriggs advised that since the additional 2% was implemented, they have collected approximately $4.7 million of the $7 million. Upon further inquiry, Ms. Spriggs confirmed they can take the $1.4 million out of the Tourist Development Fund without really touching the amount of the 2-cent exaction that has already been banked. She further stated that the 2% is generating about $1.4 million a year that they are putting in reserves.
Motion by Commissioner Dallari, seconded by Commissioner Horan to instruct staff to take $1,450,000 from the Tourist Development Fund for the purchase of land for the Central Florida Zoo’s African Safari Park.
Under discussion, Chairman Carey stated it is her understanding that the transaction would need to come from the 3-cent funds and not the 2-cent funds. She requested that, from a reporting standpoint, staff track those separately because the Board receives a lot of questions from the hoteliers who are obviously interested in seeing that the 2-cent funds are used for what was intended, which is the sports facility, and staff should be clear on the difference.
After inquiry by Commissioner Henley, Ms. Spriggs stated that currently, from an operating reserve standpoint, there is about one-half million dollars in the tourism fund, so they want to build that up a little bit more over the next couple of years.
Discussion continued in regard to the General Fund versus the Tourist Development Fund.
Districts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 voted AYE.
Motion by Commissioner Dallari, seconded by Commissioner Van Der Weide to instruct County staff to speak with FDOT about a potential trailhead under the I-4 corridor as presented.
Districts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 voted AYE.
Mr. Applegate thanked Mr. Montisano, Mr. Vihlen and Deputy County Attorney Lynn Porter-Carlton.
There being no further business to come before the Board, the Chairman declared the meeting adjourned at 9:55 a.m., this same date.