MANATEE -- The county is looking into creating an economic-development district to spur job growth and creation and ease the financial squeeze on its two community redevelopment agencies.
Manatee County officials unveiled the concept Tuesday during a joint meeting of the 14th Street West and South County CRAs’ advisory boards, of which some members had reservations about the idea.
The meeting was called to address the CRAs’ deteriorating financial conditions. Both rely on increases in property values within their redevelopment zones to raise money for combating slum and blight, but their revenues are rapidly shrinking because of falling property values.
Officials said neither agency will have enough money in coming years to pursue long-sought improvements, such as a community center in the Pride Park area and additional street lights along 14th Street. They said the agencies can either abandon those projects or delay them until economic times are better.
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“There’s nothing there to hold the CRAs together until funding returns,” County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said.
But some South County board members and residents said they aren’t ready to give up on the community center just yet.
“We need a rec center more than we need street lighting,” said John Mann, chairman of the South County board, who also advocated more law-enforcement patrols.
Remonia Lewis, a community activist in Pride Park, also urged officials not to delay planned sidewalks.
County officials said there is another option: creating a large tax-increment financing or TIF district for economic development purposes.
The potential district would use a portion of property taxes collected within a heavily commercial/industrial area to improve the county’s urban core, which includes the CRA zones. The district could cover large swaths of valuable land along U.S. 41, U.S. 301 and 15th Street East, possibly including DeSoto Square mall and Sarasota Bradenton International Airport.
While similar to a CRA, the TIF district would have fewer restrictions on how the money could be spent. County officials said that would allow them to focus on creating and retaining jobs, which in turn would improve the redevelopment areas.
Some advisory board members were skeptical, with 14th Street’s indicating a preference to remain a CRA.
County officials plan to continue refining the TIF district concept for later consideration by county commissioners, who serve as both CRAs’ executive boards.
Duane Marsteller, Herald staff writer, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.