BRADENTON -- Florida's Gulf Coast isn't known for cookie-cutter neighborhoods where everyone's house is the same shape and same color and the grass is exactly 2 inches high in every yard.
Area neighborhoods tend to be eclectic in nature -- and perhaps one of the better examples of that is in Village of the Arts, a 42-acre community zoned to entice artists of all genres. The village boundaries encompass the 14th Street West overlay district to Ninth Street West at McKechnie Field, north to Ninth Avenue West and south to 18th Avenue West.
The last recorded population estimate was about 4,400 people in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That was well before the economy took a downturn and the real estate market crashed, sending foreclosure rates through the proverbial roof.
That's one of many issues facing multiple organizations trying to revitalize the area as part of the village's Plan to Act project, with a goal to bring more artistic residents into the community. While the village's artists have done a lot to enhance the community by turning homes into brightly colored art galleries, the eclectic nature of a revitalized home next to an abandoned house can make selling the community as a
place to live difficult, said Kerry Ward, the Manatee-Sarasota market leader for Bank of the Ozarks and part of a Plan to Act task force.
Being in the banking business, Ward sees an opportunity to locate multiple foreclosed homes within the village, contact the banks and begin a process to clean the abandoned properties.
Ward said he was shocked at the number of homes that are still in pre-foreclosed status, meaning the properties remain in the name of the homeowner, not the bank.
"It's an obstacle," said Ward. "It's one of the clogs in the wheel. There are several properties that are abandoned and run down, and unfortunately in Florida, it can take anywhere from 18 to 24 months to foreclose."
That's if the bank is in a rush to do so, which may not be the case. The opportunity is there to deliberately slow the foreclosure process in order to delay paying overdue property taxes, as well as bringing the properties up to code.
"Foreclosures got so backlogged that the banks are keeping them in the property owners' names as long as possible," said Amara Nash, president of the board of directors for the Artists Guild of Manatee, the guiding nonprofit organization within the village.
Neither Ward nor Nash could provide a specific number of homes that are abandoned because public records are not available on a property in the foreclosure process. They become public record once the bank takes ownership.
The unofficial thinking from village members is there are substantially more properties in pre-foreclosure than are bank-owned, which creates the dilemma of attracting new residents who support the village's vision.
Nash said she knows of at least seven abandoned properties within a few blocks of her village home and couldn't fathom a guess on how many there are throughout the entire community.
"Each property has a list of issues to overcome, but we are definitely still working on it," she said. "It affects so many things we are trying to do. It's a double-edged sword right now because we have interested investors, but they can't get to the properties."
Nash said the most important part is to ensure that the properties get offered to the right buyers, which would be artists seeking to help build the artistic presence of the village. She continues to build and update a database of potential new residents, and the plan is to monitor village properties that go up for sale and immediately inform the potential buyers in the database.
Those involved have an understanding that community revitalization is not a sprint. It's a marathon. Ward said property cleanup is an issue, but it won't stop anyone from reaching the finish line,
"There are a lot of neat things coming down the pipe besides what's already been done and what's being discussed now. It's just those things are not far enough down the road to talk about right now," he said. "But they will be."
Mark Young, urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041.