BRADENTON -- The Bradenton Central Community Redevelopment Agency wants to build a partnership with the pastors in its district to help them plan economic and social development that will improve the community.
Bradenton pastors lead hundreds of parishioners and know first-hand the concerns of the community, and because of that they will be pivotal in community building, said Bradenton Councilman Harold Byrd.
"They lead congregations of individuals in the community, they can be very instrumental in moving forward with any policy involving change in the community," said Byrd, who's behind the initiative.
CCRA director Tim Polk and Byrd said they specifically want pastors who lead in the area near the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue corridor.
The initiative's main goal is to be proactive and inform pastors of what the CCRA is doing in the area, and to learn what the pastors think are concerns in the community.
The CCRA, created in 2000, serves with the goals of rehabilitation and economic development of neglected and blighted neighborhoods. The CCRA's targeted areas are between Sixth Street
West, 27th Street East, Martin Luther King Avenue and 13th Avenue.
"The CCRA has slated that MLK Boulevard is the main street in the district, and improvements have already been done and more coming," Polk said.
He said they have identified at least 30 churches in the vicinity of that corridor.
"It's important that we keep them informed," Polk said.
The first meeting has a tentative date of Dec. 12. Byrd and Polk will meet privately with four pastors at the CCRA offices at 302 Manatee Ave. E. Pastors invited to attend are the Rev. James Roberts from St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, the Rev. James T. Golden from Ward Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church, Pastor Dr. Willie Williams from Greater Mount Pilgrim Primitive Baptist Church and the Rev. Jasper Jackson from St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church.
"My goal is to start meeting in small groups," Byrd said.
Byrd said this initiative will also work to build youth recreation, crime prevention and conflict resolution.
Polk and Byrd have been meeting for more than a year to map out this plan to reach out to the pastors in the area. Polk said it's a part of the CCRA's master plan.
"We had to take a little break with everything that was going with the grocery store," Polk said, referring to the Save-A-Lot Plaza coming to 13th Avenue West. "But this has always been something on our bucket list with the Central CRA.
"We want to bring back that ideal of the family, the school and the church," Polk said.
He said a main concern they want to address is more parking for churches, bringing businesses to the area and reducing crime.
The Rev. Jackson, who leads St. Mary MBC, said he will discuss the safety of his members crossing the busy intersection on First Street East.
"I think it should be a overhead cross walk," Jackson said. "It's the number one complaint I hear all the time."
His church sits on the corner of 10th Avenue East and First Street. Safety when crossing the busy street is one of his members' biggest concerns.
Jackson said he will also inquire about an increased police presence or more lighting at Love Park, which is directly west of the church.
"They can have a police control the area or cut the trees down or more lighting -- just do something," he said.
Ben Lincoln, who has owned Ben's Barbershop at 117 MLK Jr. Ave. W. for 52 years, said business incentives for minorities will encourage economic growth.
"I would like to see an affordable business fund for smaller businesses. We're in dire need of that," said Lincoln.
For Shan Lu, manager of China City Express at 810 First St. E., appearance and beatification of the streets should be addressed at the meetings. She said she's happy to have been in business in the area for the past eight years.
"I think if they improve that then more people will come down for business," Lu said.
Both business owners said crime should be the top issue addressed during the ongoing meetings.
Pastor Reginald Goff, who leads Redeeming Word Christian Center in Bradenton, will be joining the CCRA's efforts. He grew up in the area and said he has a personal interest to see his neighborhood become greater.
"Any new development to the MLK corridor will be an economic benefit to the community at large," Goff said.
He said this initiative will help the area create an environment where businesses can be established.
"MLK has changed dramatically since my growing up, but more change can be made," Goff said.
Janey Tate, city of Bradenton and Palmetto reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. You can follow her on Twitter at Janey_Tate.