BRADENTON -- The deadline to respond to an invitation to negotiate to buy 200 acres of city-owned vacant land next to the Bill Evers Reservoir in East Manatee County has been extended to March 9.
In early February, WCI Communities opted not to pursue its $10 million agreement with the city about halfway through its due-diligence period after coming out on top of six bids early last year. The deadline was Feb. 29, but according to City Administrator Carl Callahan, two more expected submissions did not arrive on time.
Bradenton officials opted to extend the deadline to give everyone a chance to submit potential offers.
While opening the door to more bidders, including Pat Neal, who did submit an offer on time, the council denied Neal's request to meet with council members individually in private. Ward 1 Councilman Gene Gallo said Neal requested the private meetings. Although the city doesn't preclude such meetings, Gallo felt any private conservations with a bidder would be inappropriate.
"There's no ruling saying we can't, but my feeling is that the perception of a person being able to come in and talk to us, which is basically negotiating, is not good," said Gallo.
City Attorney Bill Lisch said some cities have anti-lobbying laws to prevent such meetings.
"But there's never been a problem here to have an anti-lobbying law," Lisch said.
Lisch said it was up to the council, but agreed with Gallo the perception would not be productive. Council members in attendance at Wednesday's workshop agreed to not meet with Neal.
Taylor Morrison is one of the three finalists with an original $10.5 million offer. The company decided to rejoin the bidding with a new submission. Only Morrison and Neal have submitted offers so far.
WCI Communities was in the mid-range of offers when chosen over two others in June. The council sided with its lower offer because WCI presented a preliminary site plan far less dense than its competitors.
Once the property is sold, all development plans will go through the county. The city has maintained some control over type of development as a stipulation of the sale.
The proposal to sell the land for housing has met with public resistance because the area is labeled a watershed. Other concerns included how another development on the city's water supply would affect the reservoir.