BRADENTON -- As the Bradenton City Council moves forward with a proposal to strip away the governing authority of the city's three community redevelopment agencies, officials with one of the agencies, the Central CRA, are concerned that the strides they have made within the community will be lost.
CRA designations are typically for low-income communities where tax increment funding from property taxes is re-invested back into those communities.
The Bradenton CRA, which is administered by the Downtown Development Authority, is somewhat different under the DDA's mission of promoting downtown development. The DDA has had measurable success in recent years, but not so much in the 14th Street West CRA, which appears to be the cause of most friction between the DDA and city council.
That friction has garnered a lot of attention in recent weeks, but the CCRA continues to be bewildered at the council's possible de
cision to take over as the CRA boards. The CCRA covers an area bounded on the north by 13th Avenue East, on the south by Ninth Avenue, on the west by 10th Avenue West, and on the east by 27th Street East.
Some council members want control of the boards to streamline the CRAs' mission of removing slum and blight and to control the tax revenues generated in the areas. Council members have praised the CRA boards, saying the groundwork has been laid for the council to take the CRAs to the next level as the governing entity.
The existing CRA boards aren't so sure. The biggest issue raised by CRA boards and residents, is the lack of an overall plan from the council as it moves forward and questions about whether the council can connect with the CRA communities in the same way the boards have, especially in the CCRA.
Rodney Jones, Bradenton Village Apartments community liaison, which is a CCRA investment, said he feels the CCRA is suffering "collateral damage," from what appears to be issues between the council and the DDA.
"I'm worried the clock will be turned backwards," he said.
The CCRA will have invested $7.5 million into the Bradenton Village Apartments by 2030.
CCRA chairman Stephen Thompson of the Najmy Thompson law firm, said the board "has done an extremely effective and good job," noting the board's mission of addressing an area that had been long neglected.
Before the CCRA could even think about spending money, its first priority, he said, was to gain the support and trust of the community, which was no easy task. When the agency formed in 2000, it held numerous community meetings and "before we did anything, we came up with a plan. The CCRA was met with resistance and it took a number of years to convince the community," that the CCRA was there to help, he said.
Thompson fears the city council is turning the board from a legitimate entity into a "puppet," by stripping its governing authority and turning it into an advisory board "that can't make any decisions. I think it's important that we are in the community. We have meetings in the community. I'd hate to meet with the community and say, 'Yeah, that's a good idea, but we have to take it to the city council.'"
Other board members include Paul Carr from Tropicana, D. Gail Murrell from Just for Girls, Lynette Edwards from the Manatee County School District and Patricia Johnson from Beall's Inc.
Tom Denslow, an architect for DSDG Inc., said he was proud to serve on the CCRA board.
"This board is well worth my time and I perceive it in a cadence of stepping up the area," he said. "I'm proud to give it my time. I support it and would love to see it continue."
However, the council believes direct involvement is necessary as they are responsible for the tax dollars and, ultimately, the blame when something goes wrong.
Goals of the CCRA master plan include community appearance, developing Ninth Avenue as a "community main street," business development, community facilities, crime and community safety.
In its 15 years, the CCRA has helped form other nonprofit agencies within the CCRA district, including CareerEdge. The CCRA seeded the agency in 2009 with $200,000.
CareerEdge has raised $4 million for job training and has helped hundreds of residents get trained or re-trained into new careers. Through the CCRA, Suncoast Community Capital was created in 2009 to help low-income families reach financial independence.
From 2006-09, the CCRA completed MLK streetscape improvements, funded a 10th Avenue East drainage project, and invested $2.5 million into the Norma Lloyd Park. In 2014, the CCRA invested $50,000 into improvements at Love Park and recently released a request for proposal to demolish and rebuild the aging Love Apartment complex while simultaneously developing a mixed use complex on MLK Avenue.
The Minnie L. Rogers plaza and retail center is another development, albeit a frustrating one for the CCRA and residents near First Street West and 13th Avenue West. That project, which is set to include a Save-A-Lot grocery store, is approaching being three years behind construction schedule, but is anticipated to break ground next month.
"If you make this change now that it is working, I'm concerned that once you make that shift, you are not as close to the community," Thompson told the council at a recent joint workshop. "You aren't meeting out there and that's a key to our success."
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.