BRADENTON -- About 35 residents and various city leaders gathered Monday at the United Way to address a proposal to develop about 3 acres at 1404 14th Street West where the troubled Manatee Inns motel once stood.
Representatives from Sarasota based Beneficial Communities fielded tough but civil questions.
The crowd expressed support for the project, but with the understanding that "We only get one shot at doing this right," said Ben Bakker, chair of the Manatee Young Professionals and a member of the committee that handpicked the developers.
The proposal calls for 80 residential apartments designed with the flexibility of the living and working environment of the Village of the Arts. The property is considered crucial as not only a gateway into downtown Bradenton, but as a "marker that says you are now in the Village of the Arts," according to Ward 3 Councilman Patrick Roff.
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The proposed development is for workforce housing, or affordable housing, and those terms garnered plenty of concern from village residents. In order to finance the project, the developer is proposing to pursue federal tax credits. That funding comes with stipulations that would keep rent somewhere between $400 and $800 a month.
Beneficial attorney Casey Colburn, who is also the chair of Suncoast Capital, said the project is targeting the just-out-of-college millennial who is starting off with the income that would qualify them to rent. Bradenton, he said, is far ahead of most Florida communities in how to attract millennials.
"Bradenton is where you go not to just have a conversation, but to go and do it and have it done," said Colburn.
"Manatee County and this community is so far ahead of most communities," he said. "Most communities only have sound bytes, but don't do anything about it. They aren't organized. You've already made the connections as a community and it will be a lot easier to fill this project than any other place we've done this."
Beneficial developer Ken Bowron Jr. said that includes some 2,700 units Beneficial has built and managed across the country since 2003.
Bowron said Bradenton has built connections as proved by Manatee Young Professionals, the city's and county's initiatives and Realize
Bradenton's award-winning millennial project.
"We can all work together to get our lease applications into the hands of the young professionals we all want to see living there," he said.
Bowron said potential renters go through an intense review process from Beneficial, the property management company, as well as the major investors. Bakker reiterated that young professionals desire a downtown Bradenton lifestyle.
"I can guarantee that this creative class are clamoring to come here," he said.
The DDA recommended to approve Beneficial's $700,000 offer in late July. The city council takes up the DDA's recommendation on Wednesday.
The agreement is based solely on whether Beneficial is successful in obtaining federal tax credits, heavy competition for that kind of funding means they only have about a 10 percent chance of winning. Bowron said.
Beneficial has other financing options, but it all involves a certain level of federal or state financial aid that would not change the scope of the requirements for affordable housing.
Project manager Brian Jones said to build the mixed use apartments privately would mean charging a minimum of $1,500 a month, "just to break even."
Realize Bradenton Executive Director Johnette Isham reminded the crowd that Monday's town hall meeting was the first of many. The success of downtown and the Village of the Arts tapestry project has been measured by how well everyone from city official to private citizen to business owner worked together to bring the city to the next level, she added.
"And this, too, will take all of us working together to get this right," she said.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.