PALMETTO -- What to do with the Green Bridge remains a sticking point -- especially for Palmetto city officials -- in planning for the Formula 2 powerboat racing regatta on the Manatee River in February.
Citing safety concerns, the Florida Department of Transportation is recommending the bridge be closed for the entire day Feb. 7, rather than closing just the northbound lanes as requested by the cities of Bradenton and Palmetto on a permit application.
The regatta is set to feature
several water and land events, including concerts in both cities, but the majority of the land events will take place at the Bradenton Riverwalk.
At first, Palmetto officials hesitated to sign off on the event, citing concerns about traffic on the bridge and potential costs to the city for law enforcement and public works personnel. They also questioned whether the event would prove to be an economic benefit to the city, especially if traffic into the city is limited.
Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant said the bridge closure and how the city will get reimbursed are two separate issues.
"There is no point talking about the bridge unless they show us a way to pay our costs for something that isn't even a Palmetto event," said Groover Bryant. "The issue for me is to arrange the funding for what will be required from us. But I can only control that part of it. The commission will decide the bridge issue."
FDOT's recommendation to close the Green Bridge did not sit well with Palmetto commissioners at their Monday night meeting, which led to Groover Bryant meeting Tuesday morning with Bradenton Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Dave Gustafson and Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Elliott Falcione.
"She wanted answers," said Gustafson, who is coordinating all the various agencies involved with permitting, city officials and event promoters. "She wanted to demonstrate the concerns of her commission and the message was received loud and clear."
Gustafson said the coordination of a first-time event of this size and scope "is unbelievable. Had I known this issue was going to come up, I would have been there to take the heat. But we are going to obtain the answers she is looking for and follow that up with both the Palmetto City Commission and Bradenton City Council, as well as the DDA."
Gustafson said the preference is to keep the southbound lanes from Palmetto to Bradenton open, but FDOT is citing potential safety hazards by allowing pedestrians and vehicles on the bridge at the same time.
"FDOT, to their credit, brought up a lot of legitimate concerns about safety," said Gustafson. "And the other side of that is with the amount of traffic within both cities, and with an estimated 50,000-75,000 people attending this event, is that a car heading from Palmetto into Bradenton would be a difficult process at best anyway. Downtown Bradenton is going to be a busy place, and if I was someone living in Palmetto needing to get to Bradenton, I would almost prefer to take the Desoto Bridge to avoid downtown Bradenton."
Gustafson said the needed environmental permitting is going smoothly, thanks to the many marine wildlife experts being part of the planning process. That permit could be finalized within the next 30-60 days.
FDOT's recommendation on the bridge permit won't require a restart to the process, Gustafson said. But FDOT has the final say about the bridge, and it isn't likely to sign off on a permit unless both sides of the river are on the same page.
"Everybody has legitimate concerns," he said. "None of us are taking this halfheartedly. It isn't one city or the other. This is our community and we want Palmetto to be profitable. We'll address both the council's and commission's concerns. We won't shy away from those concerns. We'll address them and work through them."
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.