BRADENTON -- The City of Bradenton has proposed naming its newly renovated downtown amphitheater after a controversial company that has offered a $95,000 grant for the naming rights.
But the pitch to make the Mosaic Company Foundation a permanent fixture on the downtown Riverwalk has drawn strong opposition from local environmental groups that have been fighting Mosaic's phosphate mining for decades.
A growing crowd of opponents, who plan to speak out Wednesday at the Bradenton City Council meeting, have threatened to boycott future shows at the theater if it bears the name of a company that has faced millions of dollars in water pollution lawsuits.
"This is a slap in the face," said Glenn Compton, chairman of ManaSota-88, a local environmental group. "It's an inappropriate use of public space to advertise one of the largest polluters in the state of Florida."
But Mosaic and Bradenton officials said the mining activities of the Mosaic foundation's parent company never came into play.
"We would not let that kind of sentiment stand in the way of a solid community project," Mosaic spokeswoman Jackie Barron said. "We work hard to be good neighbors, and this is an opportunity to do just that."
A memorandum was added Monday to this week's council agenda, asking the Bradenton City Council to accept a $95,000 grant and name the amphitheater after the Mosaic Company Foundation, a nonprofit charity arm of the phosphate giant.
The amphitheater has recently been enhanced as part of the $6.2 million Riverwalk redevelopment.
The site will host performances, educational activities and programs for community groups including churches after its grand opening Oct. 18, according to city officials.
The renovated Riverwalk stretches along the Manatee River, from the Green Bridge to Manatee Memorial Hospital. The project will include a day dock, splash fountain, skateboard park and tidal discovery marsh.
The Downtown Development Authority had been soliciting funding options when talks with Mosaic began about a year ago after both contacted each other. The $95,000 grant would be used toward the Riverwalk's long-term maintenance.
Realize Bradenton, the nonprofit designed to promote downtown Bradenton, has scheduled major events at Riverwalk such as the Bradenton Blues Festival on Dec. 1.
Mosaic is "a welcome partner to help fund the Riverwalk," said Johnette Isham, Realize Bradenton's executive officer. "I think with any grant or funding source there can be a variety of views.
"On the Riverwalk there is going to be fertilizer for the plants, and I think it's a sizable gift that will help maintain a community asset," Isham said.
For years, Mosaic has battled lawsuits from environmental groups seeking to limit its phosphate mining in Florida.
An environmental study is under way by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine the regional impact of new mining operations.
Some of those fears came to fruition when hurricane winds in September 2004 opened a gap in the surrounding dike of a phosphate gypsum stack in Riverview now owned by Mosaic, spilling 65 million gallons of acidic wastewater into Tampa Bay.
In February, dozens of speakers packed a Manatee County Commission meeting to oppose a plan by Mosaic to extend the Wingate Creek phosphate mine across a wide swath of East Manatee County.
"This (naming proposal) is just not appropriate at all," said Linda Jones, chairman of the Manatee-Sarasota Group of the Sierra Club. "No public building should be named after a company that strip mines the wetlands and threatens our natural resources."
This is not the first time a proposal to name a prominent Southwest Florida building after Mosaic drew public outrage.
In response to community protest, Charlotte County commissioners in 2010 pulled the plug on a plan to name its minor league baseball stadium and spring training home of the Tampa Bay Rays "Mosaic Field" for $1.4 million over 15 years.
During the past decade, Charlotte County spent nearly $12 million in litigation fighting Mosaic and its predecessor over mining activity in the region.
Charlotte, Sarasota and Lee counties all have filed critical comments about the company's mining practices in the Army Corps study, records show.
Despite the pushback in Bradenton, city and Mosaic officials stand by their agreement.
"We believe Mosaic is a great partner," DDA Executive Director David Gustafson said. "We're not trying to get into any type of political arena ... I don't think people will focus on that (name), and nor should they."
The Plymouth, Minn.-based Mosaic Co. reported net earnings on May 31 of $507 million in its fourth quarter. Net sales during that time tallied about $2.8 billion.
The Mosaic Company Foundation has invested $2.79 million in Florida organizations.