PALMETTO -- Preserving the historic 1937 Palmetto Armory building and restoring it to its former glory took one more step toward reality at a special meeting Thursday of the Palmetto Community Redevelopment Agency board, which consists of city commissioners.
The board unanimously voted to conceptually approve a contract between the CRA and VFW Post 2488, which has called the aging building home since 1962.
The 8,865-square-foot, two-story brick building was built for $30,000 as one of only two Works Progress Administration projects under Franklin D. Roosevelt's Depression-era New Deal programs.
According to the Manatee County Property Appraisers Office, the VFW-owned building is worth $354,656. If the final contract is approved by the Palmetto City Commission as expected Oct. 19, the CRA will purchase the historic building from the VFW for $100,000.
A timeline for redevelopment and restoration begins in 2016 with the CRA investing funds for a new roof and bringing the unused second floor into compliance with the fire code and Americans With Disabilities Act.
The second floor was used as a community gathering place from the beginning and houses an original basketball court used by the Palmetto High School girls basketball team until the 1950s. The second floor also has been used for dances, social gatherings and in 1954 hosted the "Bobby Lord Radio and Television Show, Talent Search and Dance" on Saturday nights before Lord moved on to perform on ABC's "Grand Ole Opry."
During World War II, the building housed the Florida Defense Force and had numerous homefront campaigns to support Manatee County soldiers serving in the war.
CRA Director Jeff Burton said he has been in discussions with the VFW for about four years and the timing is right to solidify a deal to help the city reach preservation goals listed in its 2030 Plan, as well to help the VFW veterans services programs to remain financially viable.
Post Cmdr. Wayne Marge said the building has become too expensive to maintain because 90 percent of VFW members are not around all year. Marge said the costs of maintenance and potential repairs would make the VFW's primary mission of helping veterans difficult.
"This is a very friendly partnership," said Burton. "They are trusting us and we are trusting them. Anything we can do to help the veterans, the better."
A tentative timeline would be a CRA purchase in the next two months and begin making repairs, develop second-floor construction plans for a future CRA office and apply for preservation grants in 2016.
Redevelopment would begin in 2017 with applications to the Southwest Florida Management District for parking lot and stormwater improvements in the adjacent city lot.
Redevelopment would end by 2019 and the CRA would occupy the second floor, saving $24,000 a year in rent to be applied to other CRA projects. The CRA would turn ownership of the building over to the city in 2041 when the lifespan of the CRA expires.
The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. Burton said it's a "historic resource and we would very much like to see that building get to where it once was. It's a one-of-a-kind building in the city."
Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant called the effort "honorable."
" I searched armory grants and found whole websites and books and was most moved to see how much these types of buildings means to veterans and communities," Bryant said. "When the story came out in the Bradenton Herald, I was contacted by several people who told me they met their significant other inside that building. I think we are going to see as this evolves just how much this will mean to our veterans and our community."
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter@urbanmark2014.