Bradenton explores state jobs incentive

jsalman@bradenton.comJanuary 25, 2012 

BRADENTON -- City planners are considering expanding a state incentive program downtown that entices developers to build on contaminated land and create jobs locally through cash incentives.

Bradenton is vying for a slice of a $1 million grant secured by the Sarasota Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization. The city hopes to use the funds for environmental assessments at three blighted sites near downtown, a required step to secure the Brownfields Designations.

The efforts will allow the city to lure employers with the state’s Brownfields redevelopment program by providing up to $2,500 for every new job created there in return for minor environmental cleanup.

The Brownfields strategy was among a slew of brief updates presented to the Downtown Development Authority on Tuesday -- with snapshots on projects from Riverwalk to the skate park.

“Looking at the CRAs in the area, we’ve identified a number of potential Brownfields sites,” said Tim Polk, director of the Bradenton Planning and Community Development Department. “This falls in line with what we’ve been talking about with incentives for businesses to come here.”

Brownfields is a Florida Department of Environmental Protection Program designed to cleanup bruised areas, while expanding employment opportunities.

The Brownfields designation gives companies that hire at least five employees a $2,500 refund per job created. It also provides a 50 percent loan guarantee for building projects and sales tax credits on purchased building material, according to the state.

Several communities across Florida are expanding their Brownfields designation as part of ongoing economic development efforts. One of the most notable examples nearby was the Ikea project in Tampa.

The mega furniture store was given $1 million for creating 400 local jobs on a site that required little cleanup work. Downtown Orlando also is almost entirely a Brownfields site, DEP officials said.

Bradenton planners hope to stamp the tag on three properties: a former gas station on the corner of 14th Street and 23rd Avenue; a site on the corner of Second Street and Ninth Avenue; and the old police substation on 14th Street.

The site must have either had some form of environmental contamination, or has been perceived by the public to be contaminated.

The city hopes to form an advisory board that focuses solely on Brownfields opportunities.

In October, city officials first began pondering a plan to make all the redevelopment zones blanket Brownfields areas.

“They actually get a real bad rap, but they shouldn’t,” said Volker Reiss, compliance manager for the Planning Department. “We always think of Brownfields like it’s a nuclear waste site, and that’s just not the case ... it’s an incentive for the developer.”

The city’s first Brownfields designation was slapped on the “Pink Palace” late last year at the request of the developer, who’s working to turn the eyesore into a Hampton Inn. The funds, however, have yet to be distributed.

Officials said the program’s another key tool in the competitive world of employer recruitment.

Since Florida’s Brownfields program was established 1997, nearly 290 sites have been created totaling more than 211,744 acres statewide, records show.

“Anything we can use that’s a way for us to get companies to expand or relocate, we welcome,” said Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO of the Manatee Economic Development Corp. “The other side is because of the cleanup, it’s good for the environment.”

Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095.

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