BRADENTON -- The future of Bradenton's community redevelopment agencies may depend on who controls the money.
A prolonged debate between Bradenton officials broke out Wednesday morning over the future of the four city CRAs, including the 14th Street West CRA, Central Community Redevelopment Agency in East Bradenton, Bradenton CRA and the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority, which is considered a CRA although it has different rules.
Taxes taken from a CRA district are invested back into the CRA for redevelopment purposes.
A divided council debated the idea with a slight majority leaning toward disbanding all CRAs in favor of one consolidated CRA board.
Ward 5 Councilman Harold Byrd Jr. brought up the dis
cussion two weeks ago and asked for a workshop.
Ward 4 Councilman Bemis Smith wants the council in charge by the time a 2017 interlocal agreement with Manatee County ends. The agreement stems from a deal done by former Bradenton Downtown Development Authority leadership to keep the county administration building downtown.
County officials wanted to relocate from the city, but the DDA agreed to help pay development costs and pay the county its share of parking garage revenues through 2017. The annual amount returning to the DDA, which oversees the Bradenton CRA, is about $1.3 million starting in 2018.
Officials in favor of consolidating the CRA boards said it would streamline efficiency. The consolidated DDA, under Smith's proposal, would remain intact with no more CRA responsibilities in order to allow it to focus exclusively on downtown.
Smith also wants create a new city economic development department to partner with agencies such as the Manatee Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council to return properties undeveloped for years to developers. Specifically, properties on 14th and Ninth streets west, which Ward 1 Councilman Gene Gallo called a disgrace.
Gallo expressed frustration too little progress has been made in cleaning up the two corridors into the city. He said the DDA has been too distracted in unrelated roles.
City Clerk Carl Callahan said the council needs a more defined vision.
"Specifically, what do you physically want to see?" Callahan asked. "What do you even consider to be downtown? We are finally at that point , and my intent for three years has been for you to tell me, so I can help build what you want to see done."
Callahan said generalizations such as, "We want more people living and working downtown or we want a walkable city," isn't enough to set planning in motion.
"Do we acquire more property?" he asked. "Do we want rights of way to ensure what we want is what we will have? Do we want to increase lighting in certain areas? We have opportunities to do things around McKechnie Field, so do we start looking at changes in transportation? What do we do now to set ourselves up for the future and how far are you willing to go?"
Callahan said a CRA goal is to remove slum and blight so the ultimate goal is to not need a CRA anyway.
More debate is expected, but a decision on the future of the CRAs could make its way to a city council vote within weeks.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.