Sarasota Co. reevaluating Sanborn Studios

wtatangelo@bradenton.comFebruary 26, 2011 

SARASOTA -- Sarasota County officials are reevaluating their relationship with Sanborn Studios.

In an e-mail late Friday to commissioners, Chief Financial Planner Jeff Seward outlined steps they might have to take to potentially recover the $650,000 grant paid to Sanborn.

Here’s why. In the past 10 days, Sanborn:

* Nixed a deal to buy land in Lakewood Ranch.

* Requested a $500,000 grant from the county to purchase additional post-production related equipment.

* Withdrew that request.

* Made a statement about the half-million dollars the county later refuted.

Meanwhile, Sanborn Studios’ main show, “Miami 24/7,” has remained in pre-production for more than four months.

“My economic development manager contacted Sanborn today about his status concerning swirling rumors about him leaving the area, and terminating the deal with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, after he withdrew his $500,000 request for an additional grant,” Seward said Friday. “We are told all is well and there’s no reason to worry.”

Last September, Sanborn Studios promised an economic boon of $164.2 million when fully functional in about five years and 117 new jobs over the next three years, with about 60 employees hired in the first year. The company also said it could eventually occupy 22 acres in the Lakewood Ranch area.

“On Feb. 17, we received a fax from their attorney terminating the purchase agreement on the property,” Rex Jensen, president and chief executive officer of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, said Friday morning. “Therefore we really have no further relationship with Sanborn Studios.”

This came just three months after Brad Lindberg, a broker/associate with Hembree & Associates, announced a lease/purchase agreement between Sanborn Studios and J.O. William Lindberg to occupy the property at 7321 Trade Court in the Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park. The motion picture company entered a two-year lease with an option to buy the building it’s currently using.

“Nothing has changed and everything is wonderful,” Brad Lindberg said Friday. “We’re very pleased with our relationship with Sanborn.”

Seward’s communications staff alerted him Friday of an e-mail Ken Sanborn sent Thursday, stating his company had been offered the $500,000 grant four months ago by the county.

“The county did not offer another $500,000 four months ago,” Seward said. “Sanborn asked for $1.2 million initially, which was refused. Staff did not offer more. Sanborn then came back and asked for the additional amount.”

The e-mail county commissioners received late Friday outlines the incentives and how they will be paid back (“claw back provisions”) to the county if Sanborn Studios ceases operations in the area within five years of the agreement.

“As you know, there is an inherit amount of risk in the provision of monies out of the economic incentive fund, as no grant can guarantee success in any endeavor,” Seward wrote. “In that regard, however, we construct our contracts with incentive grantees based on performance with claw back provisions for the return of the grant funding if the business does not live up to its contractual obligation.

“In some cases, though, if a company goes bankrupt or out of business, there is a risk (no matter the strength of the claw back,) that we may not recover the full amount granted. In this case, Sanborn actually has two claw back provisions in its contract...”

No commissioners could be reached late Friday.

Sanborn Studios and Ken Sanborn have not returned repeated phone calls.

Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at (941) 745-7057. Visit his blog at bradenton.com/blogs.

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