BRADENTON -- Bradenton officials Wednesday again expressed the desire to move forward with the development of a Save-A-lot grocery store-anchored retail plaza near downtown.
At a workshop, city officials went back and forth on the necessity of a grocery story, but agreed the plaza at the southwest corner of First Street and 13th Avenue West could act as a catalyst for development in the low-income area.
The saga began several years ago with the Central Community Redevelopment Agency swapping land with the city with the intent of eventually building a grocery store in the "food desert," meaning the availability of groceries within a residential area is lacking. The site is the former home of the 13th Avenue Community Center.
The project began in October 2012 when an official ground-breaking ceremony occurred, but little visible progress has been made since.
CCRA Executive Director Tim Polk has worked with City Clerk Carl Callahan to secure new market tax credits to help fund the project. The tax credits are funded through the U.S. Treasury Department for projects in underdeveloped neighborhoods and disbursed through U.S. Bank, which recently committed $6 million to the project, according to a letter from the developer to the city.
The CCRA, however, still may have financial obligations. The developer, The Endeavour Corp. out of Milwaukee, has received council approval for $300,000 toward the project to be loaned to the CCRA by the city.
Callahan said the city intended to pay $300,000 to the developer on the back end of the project, but the developer wanted the money up front.
The developer also wants the city to be master lease holder of the plaza, making the city responsible to find tenants. If the city could not, it would have to pay rent for empty spaces to the developer.
Callahan told the Bradenton Herald last month those requests stalled talks and the city would consider starting the project from scratch. In a CCRA meeting a few days later, the tone changed and Callahan told the CCRA Board the city intended to move forward.
Negotiations are now continuing, according to Callahan and if the city can get the language it needs to protect the CCRA from spending money that could otherwise be put toward future projects, "Then yeah, we are going to be a part of it. We are just protecting citizen money while trying to go forward with something that people need."
Vice Mayor Bemis Smith has opposed the project in the past, disagreeing that the area is a food desert when a weekly farmer's market, the Red Barn and a small grocery store are all nearby.
"We are trying to ram a square peg into a round hole here," said Smith. "It's one thing to let developers who think they know how to do it tell us something, but it's a whole other thing to pay taxpayer dollars to come up with a magical solution to try and make it work."
Smith said the city does not have the means to "change practical economic reality."
Ward 5 Councilman Harold Byrd Jr. disagreed with Smith.
"I live close by," he said. "We've already lost one grocery store. Once this is built, I'll be shopping there. But I have to say that this can be a catalyst. Just talking about this issue has brought all kinds of talk about the First Street corridor."
If negotiations succeed between the CCRA and developer, the matter will come back before the city council.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.