MANATEE — Manatee County has entered into talks to acquire the former Dillard’s department store in the DeSoto Square mall and would consider moving the Central Library there, Administrator Ed Hunzeker said Thursday.
Hunzeker said discussions with mall owner Simon Group of Indianapolis are in their “infancy state.”
But the county is interested in the property because of its prime location and proximity to a Manatee County Area Transit station.
“If we were to do something, the library would be a possibility,” Hunzeker said. “We’re looking at a number of ways we could better serve the public from that location and possibly bring traffic to the mall.”
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A representative of Simon Group was unavailable for comment Thursday.
Dillard’s opened in August 1992 as an anchor tenant in the mall. The store closed Nov. 3 after slumping sales forced the Little Rock, Ark.-based company to scale back operations.
Cheri Coryea, the county’s neighborhood services manager, said the county has been exploring a partnership with the mall for the Dillard’s property for about nine months.
“We’re not looking to purchase it,” Coryea said. “We’d be more interested in some other type of relationship.”
The Dillard’s building has stood empty since the store’s departure. It boasts about 100,000 square feet, almost twice the size of the current Central Library, Coryea said.
The Central Library building needs almost $1 million in repairs, mostly to the air-conditioning system, Coryea said. The county has earmarked funds for the renovation, but is awaiting a decision on the building’s fate.
Bradenton City Councilwoman Marianne Barnebey, who is the chairwoman of the library’s board of trustees, said moving the Central Library could open up development opportunities at its current site, 1301 First Ave.
City officials have long lamented the tax revenue the city forfeits because land along the Manatee River is occupied by the South Florida Museum, city hall and the library, which are exempt from property taxes, she said.
“In a perfect world, I’m not sure you would put a library on waterfront property,” Barnebey said. “Besides the tax base, the area is in a flood plain.”
Library Services Manager John Van Berkel was not available for information Thursday afternoon.