Sarasota, Florida -- When Hollywood came knocking promising a boost to the economy, one Bay area county opened the door. But it's one movie that never got made, and now the Sarasota County Commission has voted to sue Sanborn Studios for failing to produce what it promised at taxpayer's expense.
"Based on the failure of Sanborn to meet the contractual obligation over to the county," says Stephen DeMarsh, Sarasota County attorney.
When Sanborn Studios entered the Sarasota market in 2010 it promised 117 high paying jobs, two reality shows and two independent films that would inject $164 million into the economy.
Four years later, county leaders say they haven't seen a return on the $650,000 it gave Sanborn in an incentive grant. In response, Sarasota County Commissioners unanimously voted to sue Sanborn Studios and try to reclaim $350,000 in taxpayer money.
Sarasota County to sue Sanborn Studios over incentive grant. The county hopes to recoup $350,000. WTSP
"Clearly it would have been better if we made a different decision," says. Commissioner Nora Patterson.
Critics say the county's mistake is with the contract it gave Sanborn. While adequate, a job accountability expert says it did fall short in one area.
"It's not clear to us that the contract specifies how the job creation would be verified and that would be a weakness of the contract," says Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First.
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According to Sarasota County's attorney, Sanborn says it did produce the jobs but would not give proof. The contract requires Sanborn pay the county $2,992 for each of the 117 jobs it did not create after the first three years.
Commissioner Joe Barbetta voted for the Sanborn deal in 2010. When 10 News tried to talk to him Barbetta said, "It's in litigation, I don't comment on anything on litigation."
Patterson voted for the Sanborn deal too. 10 News asked why vote for something like this that doesn't guarantee the money is secured.
"Hindsight is excellent," Patterson says.
The Sanborn contract did produce a valuable lesson for county leaders and now the process for handing out incentive grants has changed. A company now has to produce the jobs first before receiving any money from the county.
In a statement released late Tuesday afternoon, Sanborn Studios officials say Sarasota County's vote to sue "blacklists" Sanborn Studios.
"The County is sending a very clear message to all businesses that Sarasota is a dangerous place to do business," said Sanborn Studios, LLC's CEO Ken Sanborn.