Bradenton Save-A-Lot proposal on hold

myoung@bradenton.comMarch 25, 2014 

BRADENTON -- A red sign hanging on a rusting fence reads: "Construction site."

To residents nearby, the sign has become a mocking symbol of irony due to a lack of construction. A little more patience is being asked for, however, when it comes to the Minnie L. Rogers Retail Center once expected to be completed by now. It remains a vacant lot at the corner of 13th Avenue West and First Street.

An official ground-breaking ceremony took place in October 2012, but the ceremonial shovels digging into the ground are the only act of construction work to take place on the site in years. Construction was expected to begin that December on a plaza to be anchored by a Save-A-Lot grocery store. Fast forward to March 2014, and the site that had raised the hopes of many in the area is now a source of frustration.

"Everybody was happy about it, especially the older folks because it's a real burden for a lot of them to try and go too far for groceries," said Hollis Bostic Jr., a resident at the nearby Bradenton Village apartments. "Everybody saw it as a good idea, but now people are frustrated because it's been like this for a while."

People have largely given up on anything beneficial happening to the vacant lot.

"I think people around here have grown used to it," Bostic said. "It's been promised to them for a while and it's never manifested. People are just giving up on it."

Adding to the frustration is the lack of communication with residents, according to Bradenton Village property manager Sheree White-Townsend.

"We don't know anything that isn't in the newspaper," she said. "That's the only time we find out what's going on. This is something that would really benefit this area, and it's also necessary because there isn't another major grocery store anywhere near here. That's an issue for a lot of older residents who don't have transportation."

The Central Community Redevelopment Agency acquired the land about five years ago from the city in a land swap, tore down the former youth center and prepared the site for development by working with New Start Community Development, out of Alabama. NSCD is registered with the U.S. Treasury Department as a community development entity, meaning they are allowed to accept tax credits to develop in underserved communities.

The land is appraised at $750,000 and was to be transferred to NSCD when construction began, but the deal collapsed shortly after groundbreaking when finances for the company became an issue. The property recently began showing up in trade magazines as being abandoned.

CCRA Executive Director Tim Polk said that is not the case.

"NSCD is still involved and the project is definitely not abandoned," said Polk. "We have a person who has allocation of new market tax credits and it's going through the vetting process now to see if they want to fund the tax credits."

Polk said it's not a done deal, but it looks promising.

"All I'm waiting for is for them to give me a final term sheet with letters of intent with bank commitments with a potential closing date on the grocery store," said Polk. "Once we have that, then we can get architects and engineers to go forward with site plans."

Happiness dissipates

That's wonderful news to Bradenton Village residents like Norma Dunwoody, who was just appointed to the Bradenton Housing Authority and sworn in March 20. But she'll believe it when she sees it.

"We haven't been informed of anything since last summer when I was part of the committee that named the plaza," said Dunwoody. "The community hasn't been told anything and as far as we know, it's all up in the air. People have resigned themselves to the fact that this is probably never going to happen. It's frustrating because everyone in this community and the surrounding communities were so happy about this store coming here."

Dunwoody said the project is important to people who live around there and said officials should have done a better job in keeping them informed.

Polk said there hasn't been a lot to tell the community lately, but has high hopes there will be good news soon.

"We could have an update as soon as Wednesday," he said. "We know this project is very important to that community. It's designated as a food desert, meaning there are no stores in the area that is capable of handling healthy foods."

Polk said the CCRA has done its due diligence in securing the appropriate piece of property and preparing it for development. Right now, he said, the process is dependent on an outside agency to do what is necessary to secure the funding.

He said residents will be happy when everything is finally completed. Besides being anchored by Save-A-Lot, the plaza will include a daycare, barber shop and beauty salon, and a Five-Star Rental.

"There's also 36,000 square feet of open space and we are looking at the possibility of having a bank or restaurant there," said Polk.

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041.

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