Bradenton Save-A-Lot project in peril because of developer's demands

myoung@bradenton.comApril 24, 2014 

BRADENTON -- Two weeks after saying the proposed Minnie L. Rogers Plaza on 13th Avenue West and First Street was funded, city officials have put the brakes on any notion the deal is final.

They're even conceding it might be time to restart negotiations with the developer.

The property is the former site of a nursing home and later the 13th Avenue Community Center.

It's been a long wait for residents in the Bradenton Village Apartments area, who have expressed frustration over the delay considering city officials held a ground-breaking ceremony in October 2012 with members of the Rogers family attending.

The plaza, as proposed, would be anchored by a Save-A-Lot grocery store in an area considered a food desert -- meaning no nearby outlets provide fresh food.

The Bradenton Central Community Redevelopment Agency spearheaded the project and, after negotiating months of red tape, recently announced $6 million in tax credits were committed to the project, essentially giving it the long-awaited green light.

But city officials are now saying negotiations have slowed because developer Endeavour Corp. of Milwaukee made too many demands. Calls to the Endeavour Corp. went unreturned Wednesday.

At the top of a growing list of concerns is a demand the city sign a master lease, meaning taxpayers would

be responsible to ensure the plaza has tenants. If not, the city would be responsible for paying rent on any empty spaces.

Paying rent on property donated by the city doesn't sit well with officials.

"That commitment for a master lease is a $450,000 commitment if the spaces aren't leased," said City Clerk Carl Callahan.

He said the city has donated a $780,000 piece of property, among other concessions.

"We got to the point where we would give them the land and agreed to give them $45,000 annually in CRA tax increment funds over seven years," said Callahan.

The investment group also wants the city to loan the CRA $300,000 in upfront costs, locked in before the project starts, Callahan noted.

The city isn't concerned about the CRA paying back the loan, considering it is a city agency, but is concerned how the CRA would recoup any potential losses.

"We started asking why we had to front this money?" said Callahan. "The CRA is out that money if it doesn't happen for some reason."

Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston said there is a public misperception about city involvement.

"We don't want to be in the leasing business," said Poston. "We can't swallow the master lease piece of this proposal, and we have let them know that."

Callahan said the city wants a grocery store on the property.

"But at what cost? The city is reluctant to approve something that would leave the city with a liability that may or may not make sense," he said.

The city supports the concept, Callahan said, "but maybe it's the wrong time and we need to think about starting over."

Patient frustration describes the mood in surrounding neighborhoods, which isn't going away even with an explanation from the city.

Raysheena Gaskin said the city needs to make a decision and stop playing with people's expectations.

"They need to make up their mind," said Gaskin. "First they get people's hopes up, then down, then up, then down again. Just don't tell the people something if you know it's not going to happen."

Gaskin's sister, Angela Gaskin, said she wants the city to be careful in how it spends taxpayer money.

"It would be a good thing to have a store that close, especially for the older people," she said. "The grandma next door has to get on a bus every time she needs groceries. So it's very frustrating, but at the same time, don't rush it if you aren't sure it's the right deal."

Angela Gaskin is a seven-year resident at the village and a mother of small children. She understands the city's position, but agrees with her sister the city has treated her neighborhood poorly.

"It's obvious to me that they don't care about this neighborhood, especially the older people here, who really need this to happen," she said.

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him @urbanmark2014.

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