MANATEE -- Facing community opposition over Long Bar Pointe, developers Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman have decided to pull back the curtain and explain a 20-year vision that hasn't even been officially submitted to the county.
The Long Bar Pointe project has been mired in public controversy about the related comprehensive plan amendments and environmental concerns, even without the public viewing what a new Long Bar Pointe would look like or learn how it would function.
"We're trying to create something that is a destination for all the residents in Manatee County," Beruff told the Herald on Friday.
In normal project approval timelines, this level of detail would never be brought out to the public. But to try winning residents and officials over, Beruff and Lieberman are showing what they believe is a transformative project for West Bradenton.
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Thousands of new homes, with rear garages and New Urbanist tones, would be reminiscent of New Orleans' Garden District, Beruff said. The residential areas would line canals and interact with the commercial district, with touches of Seaside and Wa
terColor, communities in Florida's Panhandle -- and a hint of Barcelona.
Key to the project's success is a four- or five-star hotel that would create an iconic experience, said Beruff, a Parrish resident and founder of Medallion Home.
A hotel equivalent to a Four Seasons Hotel but iconic enough like The Breakers Resort in Palm Beach would make this a destination, Beruff said. Work for the hotel would start after the home construction.
"We had hotel consultants come in and take a look at this land and they said, well, if you don't create a destination, there is no reason for a hotel there," said Lieberman, president of Barrington Group in Sarasota and codeveloper for the Long Bar project. "It has to be something that people will want to stay longer than whatever else is around."
As designed now, a courtyard would be formed in the center of the hotel. About four feet above, two private swimming pools would overlook the boardwalk and the protected mangroves that border the bay.
A stone promenade would lead guests from the hotel and a 70,000-square-foot conference center to 15,000 square feet of planned retail space -- from pizza shops, to high-end restaurants and boutiques, to the boat basin, Beruff said.
The promenade-hotel-convention center is all about creating activity for tourists, Lieberman said.
"If we don't have something that the hotel people want that can create traffic, there will be no hotel," Lieberman said.
There would be a water taxi to shuttle tourists to Coquina Beach and Sarasota. And it would be the only public boat ramp between Bradenton Beach and 10th Street in Sarasota.
"The public benefit is to create a village that is open 24/7. And it's open to all of the residents of Manatee County, and everyone who visits Manatee County," Beruff said.
A better idea
Homes at Legend Bay, ranging from 1,600- to 3,200 square feet, would be built in the first phase in 2014, with 1,800 to 3,800 homes during the second phase, Beruff said.
A harbor created out of a retention pond would be constructed to provide 57 docks to those homes, with all of the docks located in the upland area -- no waterfront docks, he said.
That's better than what's already approved for the site, his team offered. That housing development would affect 15,020 linear feet of shoreline, and allow up to 152 docks and more than 1,650 residential units,
"It's not the right thing to do," Beruff told the Cortez audience, arguing that permissions granted years ago for a standard residential development would be far more damaging to the environment than what he is proposing now.
In the new plan, the docks would accommodate boats only up to 25 feet long, and given the shallowness of the water, it's possible that folks won't even have boats at the dock.
"I have five docks on the Manatee River, and all that water is about two feet deep, but I can tell you how many people go out there, sit and watch the sunset and talk," Beruff said. "Bottom line is that the docks are allowed."
Beruff showed how the basin would be the property's focal point, as it would cut into the land forming a circle lined with slips for boats to dock. A flushing channel cuts south of the basin to prevent stagnation and improve circulation, Beruff said.
If county officials don't approve the basin, the project's vision ends.
"It's a deal killer," Beruff said.
To construct the 80-boat basin, or an upland marina, 2,100 linear feet of seagrass would be dredged at a maximum depth of five feet, he said.
"It's not a marina like Twin Dolphin or Marina Jack where you have gas," Beruff said. "It is a boat basin done on uplands with no impacts on wetland. Zero."
Community support sought
Most of what the developer duo wants to do on the 463 acres needs approval first by the Manatee County Commission, through both a comprehensive plan map amendment and a text amendment, to both rezone the property from residential to mixed use, and open up development in certain environmentally sensitive areas within the county.
But the community should support this important change in process, because creating this bayside village actually will improve both the economy and the environment, contends the developers' lawyer, Ed Vogler.
"You drive all the way across Florida on State Road 70 and you end up in gladiola fields," Vogler said. "Well, we'd like them to end up at Breakers, you know, or an equivalent."
The hotel would complement the conference center, by taking that Wednesday through Friday business and extending those visitors' stay through Sunday, Beruff said.
"You've got to give them something to do," he said.
The 250-room hotel would be located in the midpoint of the coastline, designed to give IMG Academy families and guests a place to stay in lieu of The Ritz-Carlton 16 minutes south in Sarasota, or provide rooms for the World Cup of Rowing if it comes to Nathan Benderson Park. IMG Academy has also sent a letter of support to the County Commission for the project.
"Getting a five-star hotel resort isn't a challenge because we are underflagged in this market," Beruff said. Financing is the key, he said, which would be dependent on a hotel developer.
What's right for Manatee?
While all the tourism-friendly features sound great, Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti doesn't like what it could mean for his small beach town. He believes that guests at Long Bar would flock to an already-crowded Holmes Beach during peak season, where tourism in recent years has hit record highs. Actually, less tourism would be better, Monti said, because the congestion is getting to be too much.
"If you were out here for the Fourth of July, you would realize we're losing the battle," Monti said at the town hall meeting with Beruff Thursday in Cortez. "...We need to keep congestion down and not to add to it."
Another resident at Thursday's meeting thought the project itself sounded great, but it would be better if Beruff and Lieberman could place it near Tampa or St. Petersburg.
Problem is, Beruff said, there isn't enough land along the coast near those communities, and Long Bar holds their dream.
A shallow boat ramp could also be built for canoes and kayaks on the north end of the property hidden among black mangroves, Vogler said. But the comp plan amendment would need to be approved for that kayak access to be built.
Boardwalks would take people above the mangroves in that section, plans show. Depending on the areas on the property, mangroves would be trimmed six or eight feet, but the root systems would remain, and signs would educate the public on the importance of the mangroves, according to the developers.
In between the boat ramp to the north and the homes to the south, 150,000 square feet of mixed-use buildings would be interspersed in clusters. The tallest of these buildings and hotel would be only four to five stories, Beruff said.
The office/retail space could create 450 jobs alone, the developers note, and combined with the hotel, convention center and other uses, jobs could top 950 to 1,000.
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.