Palmetto officials have been busy partnering with federal and state agencies, garnering millions of dollars in grants as they pursue their goal to transform Palmetto into a destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
In the past five years, the city's Community Redevelopment Agency has been awarded funds to revitalize and rebuild the boat ramp area of Riverside Drive Park West, with more work scheduled to reconstruct existing facilities into a bait shop, retail and concession area. Continued boat ramp improvements include a boardwalk that will extend toward the Manatee River over the existing mangrove shoreline for outstanding views.
The CRA also was awarded $1 million from the Florida Department of Transportation to construct a multi-modal trail from the Green Bridge down Riverside Drive West to 10th Avenue as the first phase of a walking and biking trail that will eventually connect every city in the park. According to Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant, that construction is expected to begin sometime after Jan. 1.
In 2014, the CRA secured $900,000 in cooperative funding from the Southwest Florida Management District to incorporate stormwater treatment opportunities into the multi-modal trail project. Bryant said the first phase of the multi-modal trail from the Green Bridge is "just part of the bigger picture" of Palmetto's transformation in the next five years.
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In August, the city declared about 1,300 feet of its seawall east of the Green Bridge stretching westward along Riverside Drive Park to be a public hazard. The CRA is initiating a $500,000 loan for repair work scheduled to begin soon. What wasn't announced at the time is the city's intention to have the replacement safety barrier be a "living seawall."
"It's a relatively new thing," said Bryant. "The designer will pre-assemble the wall and attach a material that attracts wildlife and plants to create an ecosystem while protecting the shore from tides."
The first phase of the multi-modal trail is one of six CRA grant applications for a larger trail. Those applications were not only awarded future dollars, but ranked as the top six applications for funding by the Florida Department of Transportation and Southwest Florida Management District for functionality and environmentally friendly construction.
"The end product will be a completely sustainable, new waterfront with historic lighting, a wide red brick paver walk/bike path with shaded trees, landscaping, benches and safety features including cameras," said CRA Director Jeff Burton.
The CRA was recently pledged $7 million for the remainder of its multi-modal trail that will not only construct a red brick paver trail, but re-do streets along the path. FDOT initially was going to fund one phase a year, but recently opted to do the remainder of the phases all at once beginning in 2021.
"It's a good thing," said Bryant. "It gives us an opportunity to take a closer look as far as new streets, curbing and sidewalks that could be included. Phase one will begin in 2016, and when work finishes in 2021, we'll have completely new streets."
Burton said the CRA will pay around 50 cents for every dollar spent in the initial phase that will cost around $3 million, including the seawall.
Park improvements continue to be planned with the most recent partnership between the CRA and Florida Power & Light for significant opportunities at Estuary Park, another destination for the future multi-modal trail.
"This is a game changer for Palmetto," said Bryant.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter.