Manatee County Commission OK's $125,000 funding agreement for Pink Palace

skennedy@bradenton.comAugust 8, 2012 

BRADENTON -- The Manatee County Commission Tuesday approved a funding agreement that will provide $125,000 in economic development incentives to a company poised to renovate a historic Bradenton hotel, best known colloquially as the "Pink Palace."

The board passed it 6-1, with Commissioner Joe McClash dissenting.

The monetary incentive is to be paid out in increments over three years, officials said.

It was given "for redevelopment of an existing vacant, blighted hotel structure into a 115-room modern hotel, flagged by a major hotel brand, while preserving certain historical elements and character, where practical," according to county documents.

The $15 million project will create 31 full-time jobs, and four part-time jobs, officials and county documents said.

The commission has already executed a lease agreement with the company, Widewaters Bradenton, LLC, that will provide some parking for the project at a county-owned lot, located one block southwest of the hotel site in downtown Bradenton.

McClash voted against the adoption of the agreement, saying he had a philosophical problem with the financing arrangement.

Will Robinson, an attorney representing the Widewaters company, had no such problem: "I'm ecstatic," he said after the meeting at County Administrative Center.

The former Manatee River Hotel was built in the mid-1920s by the Van Sweringer Co., of Cleveland, at a cost of $850,000. It was a favorite of the wealthy set, but closed in the 1960s, reopening as a senior citizens' residence, renamed the Riverpark Hotel. The residence closed in 2005, and the building has remained vacant since.

Once the new Hampton Inn & Suites Hotel opens to customers, guests' spending outside the hotel is expected to have an estimated economic impact of $1 million in the city of Bradenton annually, and $2 million in the county each year, said Robinson. It is expected to generate $180,000-plus in tourist taxes each year, he said.

The $125,000 is the equivalent of three years' of tax abatement for the county portion of the site's property taxes, Robinson said.

The site is expected to generate $40,000 a year in property taxes for the county, and $60,000 a year in school taxes, he said.

However, some property taxes due the city and county will be refunded to the company every year for 15 years, said Brian Long, director of development for parent company, The Widewaters Group, Inc., of Syracuse, N.Y.

Widewaters Bradenton LLC now pays about $5,000 for the city's portion of its property taxes, and any increase over that number for 15 years will be abated, he said.

"We pay the taxes, all the taxes -- city, county and school, and the Downtown Development Authority refunds us whatever is redirected to them," said Long. "Right now, its just the city portion to us; (it's a) three-year deal with the county, because in 2017, the DDA starts to get the county portion to us, the county is doing that for interim."

"We will get city and county taxes paid back to us each year for 15 years," Long said.

The company is receiving other help from the city of Bradenton: It has pledged a $1 million grant, 40 parking spaces and approximately $100,000 in period-style "streetscaping," including such things as period-style lamps and brick paving, said Long.

The company also will get state "Brownfield credits," reimbursement of half of an estimated $250,000 in environmental clean-up costs for minor pollution on the site, Long said.

Then there are "enterprise zone" benefits, courtesy of a state program designed to encourage revitalization in distressed areas.

There is also what Long estimated to be about a $2 million federal tax credit that accrues to developers who refurbish historically important buildings.

Work is expected to start about Sept. 1, Long said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031.

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