Bradenton Regatta

Regatta organizers working with Palmetto over Green Bridge closure

BRADENTON -- Organizers of the Formula 2 regatta on the Manatee River planned for Feb. 6-7 are trying to alleviate Palmetto officials' concerns over the proposed full day closure of the Green Bridge.

The Florida Department of Transportation has essentially rejected a proposal to shut down just the northbound lanes, citing safety concerns since the bridge is to be used as a spectator viewing area. FDOT is opting instead for a full closure.

Palmetto commissioners, who heard FDOT's concerns for the first time this month, are worried about how closing the bridge would affect residents, businesses and emergency services, and how much it would cost the city in staff time.

After meeting again with the regatta team and FDOT, Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant said Tuesday she is feeling much better about the option.

"I spoke with FDOT (Tuesday) and he explained to me they felt it was so much safer to close the bridge both ways," said Bryant. "I expressed our concern about emergency facilities and he said, one lane could be left open for emergency personnel and that's kind of where we stand right now."

Bryant said she also is more comfortable with the costs likely being covered through revenue sharing from food vendors. Under a proposed contract with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, which is organizing the vendors, 25 percent of the profits would return to the cities of Bradenton and Palmetto to cover the cost of public works and police personnel, Bradenton Downtown Development Authority Executive Director David Gustafson said.

The regatta team is fully entrenched in Manatee County and is working full time to finalize the details of the event, Gustafson said, and marketing meetings are under way.

"The ship is heading in the right direction and the regatta organizers will be meeting with the DDA and both city councils sometime in November," said Gustafson.

The U.S. Coast Guard, the primary permitting agency for the regatta, has been positive about the police and emergency action plans being put together, Gustafson said. And respected wildlife experts like Buddy Powell, who has more than 30 years of experience working with manatees, are on the environmental team working on permits.

"The manatees, dolphins, the sawtooth fish ... everything will be respected and addressed," said Gustafson.

While many of the issues seem to be getting resolved, the Green Bridge closure is still a sticking point.

"The commissioners have to decide if we are willing to do that," said Bryant, who acknowledged that it may not matter.

FDOT has full authority to close the bridge, with or without Palmetto's consent, "and quite honestly, I didn't get the impression that they wouldn't close it anyway even if we protested," she said. "I feel better now than I did before and I'm more comfortable."

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter@urbanmark2014.