A proposal to turn Manatee County’s Old Jail building adjacent to the courthouse into housing has drawn opposition from several community leaders, including Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube.
In a letter dated Nov. 2 to County Administrator Ed Hunzeker, Steube along with Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller Angel Colonneso and Charles E. Williams, chief judge for the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, detail their security concerns. Their concerns range from the need for an increased law enforcement presence to rooftop access to a secured detention area.
“The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and the Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court do not support the proposed condominium building project at the Manatee County Judicial Center based on the reasons stated in this letter,” the letter reads.
Nick Azzara, the county’s spokesman, said the county received the letter late Thursday.
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In the letter, which is also signed by 11 other Manatee County judges in opposition because of safety and security concerns, Steube and the others detail 10 specific concerns, which “are well founded on vulnerability assessments that have been conducted on a number of government structures in our county.”
“In a time where the public demands a safe environment to conduct their business related to the function of the courts, the liability that this project exposes us all to is undeniable,” the letter reads.
The Department of Homeland Security’s National Infrastructure Protection Plan is also attached to the letter.
In September, The Croghan Company, doing business as Connect Bradenton, submitted the sole proposal to Manatee County to transform the more than 80,000-square-foot Old Jail building, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., from its current condemned state into workforce housing. The county’s evaluation committee found the sole proposal to be responsive.
Another evaluation committee had been scheduled for Friday but was canceled Wednesday, according to Azzara.
“There was still some information gathering to be done that was not ready for the Friday meeting,” he said, adding that it was the intent to schedule another one in the future.
Bernard Croghan with Connect Bradenton said Thursday afternoon he requested the opportunity to talk to people with the sheriff’s office, the courthouse and the clerk of the circuit court, but never got a response.
“That is a sad thing because we could have resolved a lot of things before people got their pens out,” Croghan said. “We would love the opportunity to talk about it because we are confident we could meet all of them. We are not trying to force something in the Judicial Center. We are trying to salvage a wasted building that has been there for 10 years and fill it with the future leaders of our community. ... If we could sit down and meet, I think we could address them. I haven’t seen one that is a stopper.”
On Thursday afternoon, Croghan addressed each concern listed in the letter, highlighting the fact the housing would be made up of rentals, and not condominiums, as stated in the letter.
“This is a rental community where we have all the rights and all the authority,” he said. “That’s important. We are also not seeking any government subsidies whatsoever that confers rights on our tenants. The people that are going to live here are going to be future leaders of Manatee County.”
While they may be younger people living in the housing, young people aren’t necessarily immature, Croghan said.
“We are not going to have a behaviorial issue,” he said.
In regard to the concern about the secured detention area, Croghan said there would be no way the residents can get into the sally port used by the sheriff’s office to escort prisoners into the courthouse.
“We will not use the secured sally port for entryway to our apartment,” he said. “It will be sealed off. ... We believe in security, and because we have such control over who can stay in there, they have to cooperate with us. There is no way to get into the Judicial Center from rentals.”