With several key revitalization projects sprucing up downtown, the city of Palmetto continues to attack blight to provide an atmosphere attractive to new businesses, job creation and economic development. The city's Community Redevelopment Agency has created a winning combination with Sutton Park's gleaming new look and the Fifth Street West Streetscape's instant appeal.
Like Bradenton, Palmetto is pushing hard for progress on multiple fronts.
Palmetto shouldn't have a difficult time marketing the vacant Fifth Street property along the $2.3 million streetscape to a variety of businesses -- restaurants, banks, retail outlets or a grocery store are among the options CRA Director Jeff Burton cites. The city will sell the six buildable lots to developers.
Palmetto is moving aggressively on a number of other infrastructure projects, too, the city's most concerted effort at urban renewal in years. The payoff in an improved quality of life and economy looks promising.
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Last March, the city enjoyed a grand opening celebration of the Lincoln Park Splash Ground, a $760,000 addition with 21 water features and a pavilion. This marked the culmination of five years of park improvements, resulting in what was described then as a "gorgeous neighborhood park."
In September, the City Commission set aside $160,000 for land acquisition and engineering for a new 12-acre Martin Luther King Jr. Park, which will feature linear trails throughout the city, a lake, fountain and restored wetlands surrounding the Palmetto Youth Center.
In August, the city demolished the old gas station on the Manatee River waterfront by the Green Bridge to pave the way for new development on the city-owned 3.37-acre site. Palmetto also intends to demolish the vacant bait and gift shop by the fishing pier with hopes that either a cafe or shop will build there.
The city has also submitted plans to the Metropolitan Planning Organization for beautification and mobility enhancements to the U.S. 41 corridor through downtown. New pedestrian walkways and bicycle paths would be most welcome. The proposal earned the MPO's endorsement and awaits state approval and funding.
The City Commission took two other important steps over the past few months to improve Palmetto. The creation of a housing authority should help to bring more affordable, quality housing to supplant blight.
The city also designated part of the Community Redevelopment Agency district as a brownfield area, mostly downtown. That will provide property owners with grants, tax credits and other benefits for the redevelopment of sites that may have environmental issues due to agricultural, industrial or other past uses. The newly formed Palmetto Economic Enhancement District should spur private investment into downtown.
We credit much of this back to the City Commission's takeover of the CRA from an appointed citizen board soon after the 2008 election that put Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant into office. The CRA's priorities came under fire along with concerns about accountability. Burton, named interim CRA director back then, continues to provide leadership under the commission's direction.
As the region's economy turns around, Palmetto and the CRA are poised to take advantage of fresh opportunities and investment.