BRADENTON -- It's been 13 years in the making, but the Minnie L. Rogers Plaza, anchored by a Save-A-Lot grocery on the corner of First Street West and 13th Avenue West, can finally move forward.
In a 4-1 vote Wednesday, the Bradenton City Council finalized an agreement that deeds the property, appraised at $750,000, to the Central Community Redevelopment Agency and, other than staff time, will not use any further city funds. But city tax dollars are still being invested through the CCRA.
City Clerk Carl Callahan said that was the ultimate goal of negotiations with the latest developer, Upward Sal Bradenton LLC, which has qualified to use new market tax credits of up to $6 million.
The agreement approved Wednesday essentially puts the entire project into the hands of the CCRA. Terms of the agreement include a $300,000 pre-development loan to the developer, which includes a $60,000 upfront payout for design and engineering plans. Plans are to use Community Redevelopment Block Grant funding for that purpose.
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CCRA Executive Director Tim Polk emphasized that it was a loan that would be paid back to the CCRA with 5.65 percent interest, but not for another seven years. The CCRA, in the meantime, will pay the developer $45,000 a year for seven years, and will take on the controversial role of master lease holder, with the responsibility of finding additional tenants for the plaza.
Those specific items had stalled negotiations earlier this year, but the city has agreed to leave those responsibilities to the CCRA.
CCRA board chair Steve Thompson acknowledged the long span between conception and reality.
"It's taken a little longer than anticipated and again, nothing is perfect," he said. "What we have now is a structured deal that will deliver something important to the neighborhood. Not only good, healthy food, but it's going to be a job creator and we are working hard to ensure those jobs come from that neighborhood."
Mayor Wayne Poston said the city followed a business-like approach to the project.
"It's our responsibility to make sure all the dollars are lined up to protect the CCRA, the city and business partners," he said. "There's been a lot of work to get to where we are today. We needed to make sure the council was comfortable, so that's why we have taken as much time as we have. We want it done in the right way both financially and ethically."
Vice Mayor Bemis Smith, the only "No" vote, has steadfastly opposed the project, citing it as a risky venture at best.
"I don't disagree with the goals we have for that neighborhood and that corridor, but I don't think this is a suitable deal," he said.
Smith said over the past two decades, more than $100 million of federal, state and city tax dollars have been poured into the CCRA.
"I don't believe you can take buckets of money and dump it on something and call it redevelopment," he said.
Ward 3 Councilman Patrick Roff disagreed with Smith's take on the project, saying urban redevelopment is the most difficult thing to accomplish of all government functions.
"It's no secret that what developers prefer is empty pasture land because it's the easiest to develop and the most profitable," said Roff. "You see those types of deals in the newspaper daily. Our job as city leaders is do the difficult tasks for our citizens."
Callahan said no one should expect shovels in the ground too soon.
"There are still the loans that have to close, and that is expected by November, and then that money can start to be used for design and engineering," he said. "The hard part is over, but there are further steps that need to be taken between the developer and the CCRA. The city is out of it at this point."
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter@urbanmark2014.