PALMETTO -- After almost 1,800 police calls over the past seven years and a multitude of lockdowns at Lincoln Middle School during those calls, Manatee County has decided to shut down Groover’s Market for good.
County Commissioner Michael Gallen worked with the state attorney’s office and the county attorney’s office in coming up with a plan to close the market under the state’s nuisance abatement ordinance. County commissioners voted 6-0 to have the county attorney’s office pursue nuisance abatement or any other legal actions to close the market. Commissioner Larry Bustle was absent for the vote.
Chetan “Jason” Shah, who owns the Groover’s Market property at 110 17th St. W., Palmetto, said he was not informed that the market was going to be discussed at the County Commission meeting and that he wanted to talk to his attorney before making any comments.
Gallen has been working on the issue for about a month. He, Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant, Palmetto Commissioner Mary Lancaster and Palmetto Police Chief Rick Wells talked to the state attorney’s office about nuisance abatement action.
Gallen said they were told that they had a strong case and that they “just have to get this in front of a judge.” They were also told to get the county attorney’s office to bring the case to court.
Over the past seven years, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Department has answered 1,734 calls to the market. In addition, the Palmetto police department has been called to the market more than 100 times, often to assist the sheriff’s department.
Gallen said closing the market will protect lives and save county and city money and resources.
James A. Minix, the chief deputy county attorney, said he will look at all of the options for closing the market in the quickest and most efficient way, that includes an injunction ordering the market to close.
Gallen had letters of support from Lincoln Middle School, the Palmetto Youth Center and the Lincoln Alumni Association.
Principal Curtis Davis wrote, “Students have been pressured to participate in unlawful activities by people who loiter around the store. Therefore, I firmly believe that it is not only in the best interest of Lincoln Middle School, but also the community for Groover’s Market to be closed down.”
He added that the lockdowns -- which mean there is an immediate threat to the safety of students, staff and faculty -- “projects a negative image of Lincoln Middle School to the parents.” And even though they might trust the abilities of faculty and staff, they have reservations about the community, “specifically Groover’s Market.”
Even as the county is working to shutter the market, the property is going through a mortgage foreclosure action.
Bryant said her brother holds the mortgage on the Groover’s Market property. She said a foreclosure hearing was held this week and that it should be finalized within weeks. “It’s moving very quickly,” she added.
“It’s probably going to be a race between the two,” Bryant said. “The foreclosure was heard in the courts on Monday and they will go for a summary judgment.”
The end to the market, which has a long history in the Groover family, is a bitter one for Bryant. The property was her childhood home and a place where her parents and her brothers thrived. Now “it saddens us that the name is associated with what goes on at the market,” she said.
She said the county should be working with the school board and the city to come up with a plan for the site once the market closes.
Minix told the county commissioners that there needs to be a plan for the property or it could remain a nuisance. He said that while the market might be closed, people could still congregate there unless it is being used for some other purpose. Bryant said she is encouraging the school board to buy the property and use it for a technical school.
She said she mentioned her idea to Manatee Superintendant Tim McGonegal during a luncheon Tuesday. Some commissioners have voiced their support for the school board to buy the property and make it a part of the Lincoln Middle School campus.
“My family would like to see something good for the community come out of it,” Bryant said. “I would like to see expansion of education of sorts.”
Bryant said she believes there should be some grants available to help with acquisition or improvements in the community.
“Because of the income level of people in the district, I think there would be some sort of grants,” she said. “If you were going to search out a grant, you would look for something uplifting to a school and to the people of that community.”
Toni Whitt, Herald reporter, can be reached at 745-7041.