Bradenton and Palmetto have a host of projects to complete in the new year and others to start
MANATEE -- 2015 is expected to be a busy time for the cities of Bradenton and Palmetto. With the economy headed in a direction prime for development, goals to grow and improve the cities will likely accelerate from previous years.
According to Bradenton Public Works Director Claude Tankersley, 2015 will finally return the city's focus to infrastructure. Two projects involving the city's 10-year water mainline replacement program, which includes the eventual replacement of 40 miles of 75-year-old water lines, will get under way.
"Also, the city has more than doubled its paving budget for 2015 with more than $900,000 being invested into repaving projects," said Tankersley. "Much of that work will be done in the late spring when the majority of the tourists have left the area and before the summer rains begin."
Topping the wish list of the Community Redevelopment Agency is the much-anticipated beginning of the Minnie L. Rogers Plaza on the corner of First Street West and 13th Avenue West. The project has been stalled since October 2012, when city officials held a ground-breaking ceremony that left residents wondering if the plaza would ever be built.
Working with a developer experienced in new market tax credits, $6 million was pledged by the U.S. Treasury Department to ensure the construction and, after reaching a compromise on several key development contract points, the land has been turned over to the developer.
CRA Director Tim Polk hopes the first shovel of dirt will turn by February, but that is now in the developer's hands. The plaza will be anchored by a Save-A-Lot grocery store to fill an area of the city that is considered to be a food desert, meaning there is a lack of fresh foods within a certain radius of where residents live and the nearest grocery store. The plaza will feature other retail and service stores and, while there has been speculation, no official announcements have been made.
Village of the Arts
Tankersley said a project to paint and add new streetlights in the Village of the Arts will move forward in early 2015. He said the number of lights in the initial purchase have yet to be determined, but eventually 100 new lights are planned.
"Painting of the new and existing streetlights also are expected this year," he said.
Polk said the planned overlay expansion of the village's boundaries to the main traffic corridors is expected to come before the city council by spring. As part of that overall plan, the city continues to look at the potential of vacant lots for future parking lots for the village.
Formula 2 Regatta
The Feb. 6-7 Formula 2 regatta on the Manatee River is expected to proceed with a Florida Department of Transportation permit to close the Green Bridge on Feb. 7 in hand and the environmental permit expected in January. It has seen few roadblocks for an event predicted to draw 100,000 people to Palmetto and the Bradenton Riverwalk, save one. A Christian concert planned for Feb. 6 in Palmetto has been pulled after organizers failed to secure a headline act, but some type of replacement entertainment is still expected. A full event schedule, as well as parking maps and more are due soon on the event's website at bradentonarearegatta.com.
Downtown Development Agency's Executive Director David Gustafson said the business environment in downtown Bradenton is improving.
"Hoteliers also are getting more interested in the city, because when they come to visit, they always tell me how hard it is to get a hotel room downtown," said Gustafson. "They see there is an obvious need."
Gustafson said a focus next year needs to be on the creation of a multimodal transportation system through downtown with a connection to the Village of the Arts. While it won't happen in 2015, "the connection to downtown to the village is of the utmost importance to the city and the DDA."
He hopes there will be discussion in 2015 on the development of a trolley system in the downtown area, as well, "because we are getting attention from a lot of people who have noticed our past successes and are seeing that Bradenton is the place to come."
Palmetto continues to build on a successful 2014 as the city looks to the coming year.
According to CRA Director Jeff Burton, engineering plans should begin for the first phase of a multi-modal trail from the Green Bridge into Riverside Park and onto 10th Avenue West. Eventually the trail will continue to 17th Avenue West, entering into many of the city's parks and beyond. The first phase is expected to begin in 2016 when the Florida Department of Transportation begins work to build a multimodal trail on the Green Bridge.
Burton said the CRA's five-year plan is expiring and writing a new plan is a priority next year. He said the state only allows a CRA to do the work in the plan, so making sure the CRA has a vision for the next five years is of paramount importance.
Burton said there isn't a week that goes by that the city doesn't receive interest from small and large businesses that are interested in Palmetto, and the city will continue to partner with the Economic Development Council to further those goals.
Area Convention Center
Palmetto officials are excited about Manatee County's plans to invite a hotel developer to build a large hotel at the Bradenton Area Convention Center site. A request for proposal is expected to be issued in 2015. Burton said the CRA and the city have incentives ready to go for a potential developer.
"We are very excited to see something happen there," he said. "We have partners like It Works! Global and Feld Entertainment, which creates a demand for something big at the convention center, and we see it as a game changer for the north side of the river in terms of jobs, economic impact and getting further grants."
The first phase of clearing the land for Martin Luther King Jr. Park was completed in 2014, but unfortunately there might not be any further progress in 2015. Burton said the first phase went over budget and no further funding was budgeted for this fiscal year. He said 2015 will be spent finding funds to finish the park by 2016. Burton said it's back in the planning phase for future improvements such as restrooms and parking, and that more property acquisitions may be necessary to complete the park.
Riverside Park, ramp
The $900,000 project to upgrade Riverside Park, expand the boat ramp and reconstruct the docks will be completed in February, and will be functional for the Feb. 6-7 Formula 2 Regatta for competitors to use the ramps and docks as a staging area. City officials plan to renovate the park's restrooms and remain in discussion on what to do with a currently unused portion of that same building. Ideas being discussed are a bait shop and a small concession area. Burton is hopeful some type of movement will happen, but it will depend on the availability of grant funding.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter@urbanmark2014.