PALMETTO -- With the Bradenton City Council expected to vote on whether to move forward with the 2016 Bradenton Area Riverwalk Regatta on Wednesday, Palmetto officials Monday night once again balked at the idea of supporting the event without further assurances that the city would benefit as organizers initially pledged.
Despite public outcries from Manatee County commissioners that more be done for the city, an acknowledgement from event organizers that more needs to take place in Palmetto and the DeSoto Historical Society offering to step in to liven things up on the north side of the river for the event, Palmetto officials won't budge on offering support without guarantees.
"100 percent of what was promised to us didn't occur," said At-Large Commissioner Tamara Cornwell. "Not even 10 percent. It was 100 percent."
Cornwell said the only way that the regatta would garner her support is to move the Formula 2 races closer to Palmetto, however, that would require a lengthy and expensive redo of the environmental permitting process. Bradenton Downtown Development Authority Executive Director David Gustafson also told the Bradenton Herald earlier that Palmetto's side of the Manatee River has a substantially larger manatee zone than the Bradenton side and a permit to move into that zone would not be possible.
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Organizers also expressed concern over a the lack of spectator room on the north side of the river compared to the Riverwalk where it was not impossible to see the race, but the prime viewing area remains the Green Bridge. It is the bridge that is the pawn in the battle between Palmetto and Bradenton, as well as Manatee County. State statutes say a state highway can be closed for festivals, but with the appropriate municipality approval.
Without Palmetto's support to sign a permit to close the bridge -- the one permit that was not submitted as an annual permit -- the Florida Department of Transportation technically could close the bridge in deciding what are the appropriate municipalities. However, it would be highly unlikely, according to several officials.
Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Elliott Falcione, Integrated Strategic Marketing's Mike Fetchko, Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant, Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston and others met in late March to discuss the 2016 regatta. According to Palmetto City Clerk Jim Freeman, there was an acknowledgement that more needed to be done, "but the challenge is coming up with what that looks like," and no solutions were offered.
Bryant said everything that Palmetto was concerned about in terms of race location and naming the event after the Bradenton Riverwalk instead of Manatee County, was shot down.
"There's not a real deviation from the actual regatta," she said. "And even if we go forward with a 2016 regatta, if we don't see a deviation, there definitely won't be a 2017 regatta."
Cornwell reiterated her position, Ward 2 Commissioner Tambra Varnadore said she remains opposed and the remaining commissioners agreed.
Bryant said the city has three choices at this stage: To meet with DeSoto and come up with a plan, to decline participation or to submit a list of things Palmetto will need in terms of guarantees.
Bryant said the Manatee County Tourist Development Council also should put funding into a Palmetto event, since it devoted $175,000 to what turned out to be a Bradenton event. CRA Director Jeff Burton said that's how to be "proactive rather than reactive," and suggested the mayor and the DeSoto group make a presentation to the TDC once a plan is in place to at the very least, ensure a Friday night kick off concert goes off as it was originally planned. Commissioners agreed to continue discussions on the regatta and to set a planning meeting with the DeSoto group.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.