MANATEE -- Manatee County officials have proposed a new redevelopment district they say will encourage private investment and neighborhood improvement in urban core areas.
Plans call for dissolution of two current community redevelopment areas and the advisory boards that oversee them.
The two districts, the 14th Street West Community Redevelopment Area and the South County Community Redevelopment Area, would be replaced by a larger, single redevelopment district.
The Manatee County Community Redevelopment Agency, which administers projects in the two Community Redevelopment Areas, could also be dissolved. It is governed by the county commission.
The new district, to be called the Southwest Area Tax Increment Financing district, would incorporate the entire southwest area of the county.
"It would provide a long-term funding source for the program that would encourage redevelopment in that area," Dan Schlandt, deputy county administrator, told the Manatee County Commission.
The idea is still in its early phases, and no specific projects for the new districts have been proposed so far.
Last week, the commission voted to start preparation of legal documents that would establish the new district and dissolve the two current redevelopment areas.
County Commissioner Robin DiSabatino, who represents most of the affected area, cast the lone vote in opposition.
The county's redevelopment agency oversees projects designed to encourage commercial activity, fight crime and add amenities, which are paid for by using part
of the money from increases in property-tax revenues as the areas revitalize.
"Taxable property values appear to have bottomed out, and are starting to rise, therefore, it is important to establish a base year for the Southwest TIF District against which future years' tax growth can begin to produce an increment," explained a discussion included in the commission's agenda.
The two current redevelopment areas extend from the Bradenton city limits south to the Sarasota-Manatee gateway area.
The new Tax Increment Financing district would stretch from Manatee Avenue on the north to the Sarasota County line on the south, and from Sarasota Bay on the west to U.S. Hwy. 301 on the east.
It is expected to generate more money for redevelopment, officials said; current redevelopment areas have struggled through the recession.
"The concept here is, say, the airport authority or USF Sarasota-Manatee or IMG Academy or Manatee Fruit farm expand or develop," explained Cheri Coryea, county director of neighborhood services, which operates the community redevelopment agency.
"The increase in taxes collected from their development will go into the fund to enhance infrastructure in the TIF (Tax Increment Financing) area -- it will benefit all the people in the area."
It's the valuation difference between one year and the next, she said.
In 2013, the South County area generated $20,010 in revenue, compared to its 2006 pre-recession total of $837,096, according to Jan Brewer, county budget division manager.
In 2013, the 14th Street area generated $150,890, compared to the 2006 total of $171,083, she said.
The two existing redevelopment areas could become part of the new district, said Coryea.
A larger district would cut bureaucratic red tape, said County Administrator Ed Hunzeker.
"A TIF has much more local control, totally local control," he said.
It would also allow community members to more easily meet and to talk, since it would not be subject to state open meetings laws, Hunzeker said.
Currently, meetings must be advertised ahead, and board members cannot talk to one another except in formal settings, he said.
It would be more convenient and streamlined, and economically, the new arrangement would get everybody to the same place, he said.
"We're going to continue doing everything we're doing," he said. "It's setting the CRA board free."
Opposed to the plan is DiSabatino, a former county redevelopment agency chair.
Its work and that of its advisory boards have unified communities and attracted supporters, DiSabatino said.
"We started with areas that had severe crime and blight, and we have really made vast improvements," she said.
"There's more home ownership, more pride of ownership, more pride in renting," DiSabatino said. "A lot of children in the community in South County are in close proximity to the school; I would hate to take away any improvements we've made, to take away our support for these communities."
Public safety was a key objective, she said.
DiSabatino cited successes in the fight against crime in South County with extra sheriff's deputies the agency provided, new sidewalks, streetlights and security cameras.
"It helps with crime and attracts commercial development," said DiSabatino.
About $3 million has been set aside for a South County community center on 4.1 acres the agency bought at 63rd Avenue and Ninth Street, across from Pride Park, noted DiSabatino.
However, after years of trying, there is still not enough money to both build the community center and to operate it.
So, DiSabatino hopes the money can be used instead for more public safety improvements in its current boundaries, rather than being allocated elsewhere or disappearing into the general fund.
"They want to rob my kids' piggy bank," she said.
Under the current arrangement, the agency would have three years to spend the money, said Coryea.
Asked to cite an example of a redevelopment success as the agencies are now configured, Coryea mentioned that along 14th Street, the CRA jointly maintains the medians with the Florida Department of Transportation.
It helped to create a business association, which is developing marketing resources and special events to promote business in the area, and a branding campaign called "MidTown Manatee," she said.
A long-awaited soccer field near Daughtrey Elementary has been partially completed, and will celebrate its grand opening within a few weeks, she said.
Some advisory board members expressed mixed opinions about plans for dissolution.
"I'm not really happy about it because the CRA has a major impact on the area," said Norm Luppino, a member of the South County board.
He would still like to see a community center built, maybe scaled down, because it would be a place where at-risk kids could gather, young adults could meet, social services could be offered and social events held.
"I think there's some plusses to the (proposed Southwest) TIF, but I think you're going to have a lot of communities competing for that money," he said. "At the end of the day, we don't have any say about it."
David Bishop, the chairman of the 14th Street board, said he was "very proud" of what his board has been able to accomplish.
Still, the concept for the new Southwest district could potentially benefit the area, he said.
"I'm all for what's the best for Manatee County," he said. "I've put a lot of years into the advisory board; if the powers that be think it's better, I'm OK with what's best for all of us."
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.