‘Brown’ may be solution for ‘Pink Palace’

skennedy@bradenton.comJuly 13, 2011 

BRADENTON -- City officials have a new idea to save the “Pink Palace” in downtown Bradenton: Designate it as a “brownfield” site, so it might qualify for state environmental clean-up and jobs incentives.

Tim Polk, Bradenton’s director of planning and community development, said Tuesday he will seek the designation for the former and now-vacant Manatee River Hotel in an effort to financially help its current owner, The Widewaters Group Inc.

The company, based in Syracuse, N.Y., hopes to transform the eyesore at 309 10th St. W. into a Hampton Inn & Suites hotel.

“The action being taken by the city of Bradenton is to designate the property as a brownfield area to make it eligible for these state incentives,” said Brian Long, director of development for The Widewaters Group.

Such incentives are not grants but rebates applied against future state taxes paid, such as sales tax or corporate income tax, he said.

“The program does not cost the local municipality anything, as the only taxes that the credit applies to are state-level taxes,” Long said.

Such incentives, as well as historic preservation tax credits available for restoring the circa-1925 hotel, have “always been part of the overall plan to make this project feasible,” Long said.

Volker Reiss, Bradenton’s compliance manager for planning and community development, said he hopes the city council adopts such a resolution during its Aug. 17 meeting.

The property “is not soaking in chemicals or oil,” Reiss explained, but some type of cleanup is necessary.

Two years ago, the city used federal grant money to conduct a “brownfield assessment,” and discovered that the property showed minor petroleum contamination where underground heating oil tanks once were located.

Part of the cleanup incentive is called a Brownfield Redevelopment Bonus Refund.

“The way that works is, if the project creates so many jobs after the cleanup, there’s a dollar amount per job that can be applied for this bonus refund,” Long said.

He wasn’t sure how much money the incentives might generate, since the amount would depend on the number of jobs, how much the company pays in taxes and other variables.

“I want to say about $2,000 per job, for maybe a couple years,” Long estimated.

“In the big scheme of things, it’s not a huge amount, compared to the total project cost, but every piece helps get us closer,” he said.

The company has previously estimated the total project cost at about $15 million.

A gap of several million dollars still exists in what the local Downtown Development Authority is willing to offer in aid, and what the company will need for a viable project.

Polk argued that if the hotel is restored, it will benefit all residents, since it “is one of the key buildings in our downtown.”

He also observed that the project is surrounded by other developments that, cumulatively, will spur downtown growth.

Some of those include the city’s Riverwalk, a $6.2 million project to enhance the banks of the Manatee River; a private firm’s $300,000 renovation of the Harbor Apartment complex, 301 Seventh St. W.; and completion of a new performing arts facility at 502 Third Ave. W. by a local non-profit organization, The Manatee Players, Inc.

The once-glamorous Manatee River Hotel closed in 1966, reopening as a senior citizens’ residence renamed the Riverpark Hotel. It closed in 2005, and the building has remained vacant.

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