PALMETTO -- Promises have been made and money has been spent, but a crucial component of next year's Formula 2 powerboat racing event on the Manatee River is the availability of the Green Bridge.
Palmetto officials are not ready to sign off on closing part of the bridge for the event scheduled for Feb. 6-7.
The initial plan was to close the northbound lanes of the bridge going into Palmetto, leaving the southbound lanes open and dividing them to continue to allow north/south traffic flow between Bradenton and Palmetto.
The goal of the closure is to establish an ideal viewing point overlooking the river, and to make way for a 5K run from Bradenton to Palmetto.
David Gustafson, executive director of the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority, acknowledged the plan to divide the southbound lanes has hit a hurdle that will be tough to overcome. Gustafson said the Florida Department of Transportation would require concrete barriers to divide traffic, "and that would be a huge cost."
Gustafson said it would be a simpler process to ask FDOT to shut
down the entire bridge for the event -- from Friday night to Saturday night -- but that option isn't likely to garner needed support from the city of Palmetto.
"I am totally against closing the entire bridge," said Palmetto Police Chief Rick Wells.
The one viable option remaining is to close the northbound lanes into Palmetto and allow traffic to leave the city via the southbound lanes.
Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant said she has growing concerns the event may have the opposite economic impact on Palmetto businesses if traffic can't get into the city. She said locals know if they leave Palmetto over the Green Bridge, they can return via the Desoto Bridge, but visitors to the event may have a more difficult time finding downtown Palmetto.
Gustafson said Palmetto is being made a destination point for the event. Sutton Park will host a "top level" Christian music concert, and refurbished boat ramps at Riverside Park will serve as the staging area for the competitors. He also is confident people will be made aware of how to get into Palmetto if it becomes necessary to shut off traffic flow via the Green Bridge.
Gustafson appeared before the Palmetto City Commission on Monday seeking a motion to continue to work with the regatta team, "and if possible," a motion to authorize Groover Bryant to sign the FDOT permit requests.
"Our goal is to partner with the city to potentially bring a $10 million economic impact into our communities," said Gustafson. "Everything we have done with Palmetto in the past and present has been very favorable."
The city approved a motion to continue to work with Bradenton and Manatee County on the event, but stopped short of letting the mayor sign any documents.
"We need to have more conversations," said Groover Bryant.
Despite concerns about closing the Green Bridge, Gustafson said he remains confident planning for the regatta is going smoothly.
"Everybody is happy where this is going and sees the potential," he said. "The community has come together with open arms for this event."
The Department of Homeland Security estimates 750,000 people attended the three-day Fourth of July powerboat regatta in Pittsburgh. Gustafson estimates the event had a $25 million economic impact on the Three Rivers area.
"We aren't expecting that many, but you can expect a quality event," he said.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.