Minnie L. Rogers Plaza details ready for June presentation

myoung@bradenton.comMay 22, 2014 

BRADENTON -- The long and winding road to build a Save-A-lot grocery story at the site of the Minnie L. Rogers Plaza on the corner of First Street West and 13th Avenue West is close to a vote.

Final negotiating terms are at hand, said Central Community Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Polk.

Polk presented the information Wednesday to about 40 people, including relatives of the late Rogers, at a community meeting at the Tropicana RTS Building.

Stephen Thompson, CCRA chairman, opened by acknowledging frustration felt by residents who have seen little action since the city held an official ground-breaking ceremony in October 2012.

"A grocery store was always a priority for the neighborhood," said Thompson. "Unfortunately, it's taken longer than anticipated, but we've never forgotten about it. ... I

understand the frustration in how long it's taking, but it's important to note that we've never given up. We've never said there are too many obstacles in the way."

Thompson said he is confident an agreement is coming soon and plaza construction could begin by December.

It's a promise residents have heard before.

Cherie Johnson, Rogers' oldest granddaughter, still has pictures of the ground-breaking ceremony.

"That was in 2012 and here we are in 2014," said Johnson, who knew her grandmother well and beamed with pride over Roger's contributions to Bradenton history.

Asked if she thought Rogers would be satisfied with the progress regarding her namesake plaza, Johnson emphatically said: "No, she would not."

However, she said she trusts Polk and is confident the plaza will take place -- she's just not holding her breath for it to happen. "I hope it happens soon, but I have a headache just from listening to all of this," Johnson said.

Polk detailed CCRA activities dating to 2012, which included developer meetings, committee formations, traffic studies and renegotiations. The perception is not much has happened after the ground-breaking ceremony, but Polk said the CCRA has been on top of the project.

Most project needs are in place, including $6 million in committed new market tax credits for the developer, he said. A sticking point has been a $300,000 loan to the CCRA to pay engineering and design costs, which the developer wanted upfront.

The city balked paying $300,000 for engineering costs because it does not guarantee the project will happen. City officials wanted to guarantee funding at the project's end.

There also are concerns about the master lease, which the developer wants the city to hold, meaning the city is responsible to pay the developer for any unleased plaza space.

The developer eventually agreed to put $150,000 in development fees in escrow to cover any empty lease space, but the money could be taken out to cover construction overrun costs.

City Clerk Carl Callahan said the developer needs to assure the $150,000 is "hard money."

Earlier, he said, the project has been like two trains.

"We've let one keep going down the path with the $300,000 and the master lease," he said. "The other continues to be looking at other inquiries we have had since 2010. We need to make sure that $150,000 is not pledged for something other than leasing the building. If restrictions are placed on it, then it reduces our liability."

Polk is committed to putting potential contract terms in front of the Bradenton City Council in June, but those details are still unresolved.

"We want to do a good deal and work out all the kinks to the point where everyone can live with it," said Polk. "That's what will be presented to the council."

If the city council agrees, the project will move into a contract phase and development planning can begin.

Save-A-Lot officials say they remain committed to the project. Neil Kirchoff, real estate manager for Save-A-Lot out of Orlando, said he cannot discuss details now.

"But our understanding is that the project would take some time when you have the community involved in offsetting money," he said. "So this is not a real surprise from a real estate perspective."

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

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