City officials saw the relocation of SUNZ Insurance headquarters to Bradenton as a potential catalyst in sparking downtown growth. So far, SUNZ isn’t disappointing.
“We’re very pleased,” said city administrator Carl Callahan. “The fact that they are on the south side of Manatee Avenue and doing all this renovation is particularly exciting, because we really wanted to try to bring something new and different to that south side.”
One of the fastest growing workers’ compensation insurance companies, SUNZ purchased the old First Bank building at 1301 Sixth Ave. W. in December 2015 for $2.295 million. The company has transitioned more than 100 employees from Sarasota into the downtown workforce with more than 100 more expected when it completes the major renovations.
CEO Steven Herrig has made Bradenton his new place of residence, as well.
“We are all in when it comes to Bradenton. We’re happy to be here and it’s been terrific working with the city to get our vision to come true,” said Terri Stevens, the company president.
SUNZ is investing a lot of money into the 1970s’ high-rise on the south side of downtown. Two floors are now completely renovated with two more floors under construction. The remaining two floors will follow along with plans to enhance the building’s exterior and a complete overhaul of the grounds outside.
Stevens said the plaza outside the building will be transformed into an inviting new space, “to bring the work environment outside.”
Outside work stations will be available to employees, as well as space for the company to host corporate events for SUNZ and its affiliate companies, which will be joining SUNZ downtown when renovations are complete.
“One of our goals is to attract young professionals,” Stevens said. “People think of insurance as not being very exciting, but it’s all about the atmosphere. We are job creators.”
We are definitely seeing interest on the other side of Manatee Avenue. People are definitely more interested now that SUNZ is there.
City administrator Carl Callahan
The average demographic of someone in insurance today is a 45-year-old male. Stevens is one of the few female presidents of an insurance company, and she said that’s because SUNZ is focused on diversity in its workforce.
Renovations will continue for some time on both the exterior and interior of the building. Work includes new floors, an enhanced exterior, new landscaping, an updated plaza area, a new parking layout and a new lobby. More companies joining SUNZ means more employees enjoying downtown Bradenton. All of it, Stevens said, is just part of SUNZ’s overall commitment to its new home in Bradenton.
The city of Bradenton helped make it happen with various incentives, a practice typical in promoting economic development. SUNZ received $100,000 in Community Redevelopment Agency funding for “public domain improvements,” and the city will provide $1,750 for every job created as promised.
SUNZ has exceeded its incentive agreement, according to Callahan.
“The idea of incentives is job creation,” Callahan said. “The average pay per job in the agreement for the first year is $84,000 and they are at $89,000, so it’s greater than anticipated. They have to hold those jobs for five years, but the key here is that we didn’t say how long they had to take to have that many employees here, and they have already met it in the first year.”
As far as SUNZ becoming a catalyst for more downtown growth, Callahan said nothing has come to fruition yet.
“But we are definitely seeing interest on the other side of Manatee Avenue,” he added. “People are definitely more interested now that SUNZ is there and what they are doing to that building.”