Bradenton DDA shuffles leftover Riverwalk funds

myoung@bradenton.comMay 18, 2014 

BRADENTON -- As the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority scrambles to come up with money for a proposed powerboat regatta here next year, it is shuffling funds between accounts to pay for higher maintenance costs at the event's venue, Riverwalk.

When the DDA board met in April to discuss the regatta contract with Integrated Strategic Marketing, the event's organizer, the board discovered that the Riverwalk construction and maintenance account still held in excess of $420,000.

That was a surprise to board members, who inquired whether that funding could be used toward the regatta, since it is considered a Riverwalk event. But they have learned they can't, because it's left over from a $440,000 grant from The Mosaic Co. that is restricted for construction, maintenance and operation of Riverwalk. The only money used from that grant so far is $25,000 for Realize Bradenton to initiate cultural educational programs at Riverwalk.

With knowledge of the account now in the board's hands, the DDA met again last week and voted to move the remaining Mosaic funds into the Riverwalk's annual maintenance account.

The DDA budgets $150,000 annually for the maintenance, which is done by the city's public works department. But costs are rising because of the unanticipated number of people visiting Riverwalk.

The DDA established the annual maintenance budget based on an estimation of 150,000 people visiting Riverwalk every year.

"We took into consideration that as many as 50,000 people a year were using the riverfront before Riverwalk, so we tripled that number to get our maintenance estimate," DDA Executive Director David Gustafson said. "Well, we had 150,000 people visit Riverwalk in the first four months, and the estimates are now that there have been a half-million people there in the past 16 months.

"This park is so popular, we never imagined the hundreds of thousands of people that would visit it," he said.

Shuffling the funds

The DDA moved $143,374 of the Mosaic account into the 2013 maintenance budget to cover costs for the past year. But the DDA's $150,000 commitment to annual maintenance should have covered those costs without the need to shuffle Mosaic grant money, according to documents obtained by the Bradenton Herald.

Gustafson said the DDA's $150,000 would cover the 2013 bills, and the $143,374 from the Mosaic account is a "contingency fund" for future maintenance.

"That money doesn't have an expiration date on it," he said. "It can be moved into another maintenance line item and used at another time. We want to use those funds for what the Mosaic agreement allows us to do."

The DDA has another big bill looming. By June 1, the authority must make the first of three $50,000 down payments for the power boat regatta to Integrated Strategic Marketing.

Asked if the DDA's decision to move Mosaic funds to cover the still-unpaid 2013 bills was to free up DDA's maintenance funds to ensure the F2 regatta deposit is paid on time, Gustafson said that was not the intent. If they can't make the deadline for the regatta deposit, he said, the DDA plans to make an addendum to the regatta contract and accommodate a late deposit.

Gustafson blamed himself for the board's surprise over the Mosaic funds.

"The buck stops here as to why the board didn't know about it," he said. "We have a new treasurer and a volunteer board with full-time jobs, but I take full responsibility for the board not knowing about this account."

Gustafson said with so many projects going on within the DDA, the leftover funds just never came up for discussion before they were looking for the regatta deposit.

"It's a good thing because all of the funds have to be used by October 2015, according to the contract terms," he said. "I'm glad this has been under a lot of scrutiny, or we may have gotten to October 2015 and realized we were going to lose this funding."

Tackling growing expense

The DDA moved $240,566 of Mosaic funds into the 2014 fiscal year maintenance budget, as projected expenditures are anticipated to be higher due to one-time costs like the resurfacing of the aquatic area, resealing paver bricks and improving drainage at the oval pavilion grass seating area. Public Works Director Claude Tankersley said the sod would be torn out sometime in June and then re-sodded.

"The area will be closed during work, and then the pavilion itself will be open," said Tankersley. "But in order to give the new sod a chance to grow and become healthy, the grassy area will remain closed through the Fourth of July."

Tankersley acknowledged it's a popular area for people to gather to watch the fireworks, but that it couldn't be helped.

Visitors to Riverwalk during the summer can expect to see more temporary closures of Riverwalk amenities for such needed maintenance.

With growing maintenance costs and a proposed expansion of Riverwalk, Gustafson said there is a lot of conversation occurring at the city about how to cover the cost of maintaining Riverwalk into the future.

After the Mosaic funding expires, the DDA's projected 2016 budget for Riverwalk again has only $150,000 for maintenance -- and that won't be enough, officials agree.

"We are all concerned about it and, with the idea of a Riverwalk Phase II, a little scared about it," said Gustafson. "The idea is that the more we improve the riverfront, the higher the property taxes go and the goal is to make sure those dollars cover future needs."Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitternote>

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