Historical renovation awaits ‘Pink Palace’

Developer accepts Bradenton’s money, tax rebates to go forward with project

chawes@bradenton.comOctober 29, 2011 

BRADENTON -- The Widewaters Group has accepted Bradenton’s offer of more than $1 million in incentives and an estimated $1.5 million in tax rebates to move forward with renovation of the “Pink Palace,” one of the city’s standout historic properties. “Although we were not able to secure all of the incentives that we were looking for, in the end we are agreeing to a package that works for all parties,” wrote Brian Long, director of development for Widewaters, which will convert the circa-1926 building into a Hampton Inns Suite.

News of Widewaters’ decision was welcomed by Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston and Dave Gustafson, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority that crafted the final deal.

“This is a project that this community has felt was important for a number of years,” Poston said. “Trying to get this thing on track and make it work without hamstringing the city or the business is what we’ve been trying to get done. It’s a great thing for the city of Bradenton.”

Gustafson, who received word of Widewaters’ decision while in Washington, D.C,. to visit family, said he is “ecstatic.”

“I’m jumping out of my skin, I’m so excited,” he said. “I really believe this is just the beginning of the city’s rebirth, and I’m just ecstatic and honored to be a part of it.”

The city will provide Widewaters $1 million in upfront payments, with half secured by a bond issue from the developer, that come from the authority’s discretionary fund; an estimated $100,000 in streetscape improvements, also from the discretionary fund; and $1.5 million in property tax rebates over a 15-year period.

The project’s anticipated economic boost to the community includes 35 permanent jobs and 100 construction jobs; 50,000 annual guests with an extended economic impact of $2.5 million; and $530,000 in tourist, school and sales tax revenue.

Widewaters will begin environmental remediation of the site sometime within the next three months, Long said. Construction is likely to begin in spring 2012 and wrap up by spring 2013.

The deal had received tentative approval from the Bradenton City Council this week, a key factor in winning over the Widewaters group, Long said.

He also said the start-up of Riverwalk, a new 1.5-mile waterfront park with numerous amenities, helped persuade Widewaters to accept the authority’s offer, which is almost $3 million less upfront money than the developer had originally asked for last year.

“One of the biggest reasons we were drawn to this project was because of the desire and commitment from the city to take steps to revitalize their downtown,” Long said. “The fact that they followed through on that has certainly solidified our feeling that they’re committed to revitalizing downtown.”

The seven-floor building is considered one of Bradenton’s most important historic buildings, said Cathy Slusser, deputy director of historic preservation for the Manatee Clerk’s office.

“This building is very rare because of its height and its prominence, and how it stands out over the skyline,” Slusser said. “It’s an obvious landmark, and it makes us unique and different from other communities in our area.”

Slusser also said the building is simultaneously a reminder of “better times,” and of “surviving through bad times.”

“Shortly after it was built, our community went into a depression,” she said. “I think it’s an encouragement for our community to look at that building and see how long it has stood there.”

The Widewaters group will be restoring the building’s lobby, which still retains its grand staircase and other key features, to its original Mediterranean Revival style. That decision will earn Widewaters about $1.8 million in federal historic preservation tax credits, which the company plans to sell to raise additional capital, Long said.

The building’s other six floors were gutted years ago when a previous owner tried to convert the building into condominiums. The 115 rooms Widewaters plans to build, 40 percent of which will be suites, will be in a modern style, Long said.

The city has also declared the .85-acre site as a “brownfield site,” which means it shows promise for economic development that may be hampered by “real or perceived environmental contamination,” according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Widewaters will receive about $100,000 in tax rebates and refunds for agreeing to clean up a small area of contamination caused by underground petroleum tanks that were once used to store heating oil, Long said.

Christine Hawes, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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