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Bradenton approves downtown bus station

BRADENTON — The City Council on Wednesday voted 3-2 to approve the construction of a Manatee County Area Transit facility on 13th Street West, between Sixth and Eighth avenues in downtown Bradenton.

Robert Gause, agent for ZNS Engineering, told the council before the vote that MCAT knew for years it had to do something about the congestion the buses create at the current location on 12th Street West next to the Historic Courthouse.

Over the past several years MCAT has been searching for a new site, Gause said, and working with city staff, decided on the 13th Street West location.

Council members Harold Byrd Jr., Marianne Barnebey and Patrick Roff voted for the proposal, and Gene Gallo and Bemis Smith voted against.

Several property owners spoke against building the transit station and making the street one-way northbound, saying it would affect property values.

Harry Bakker, who owns the property east of 13th Street West where the Bank of America building sits, said the bus facility would interfere with development plans he has for the southern portion of his land along Eighth Avenue West.

The two main objections Bakker said he had were that the facility would deny access to a proposed parking garage and eliminate the exit to the planned bank drive-through.

He also was concerned with the vagrants that the facility may attract, as was Steve Horda, the property manager for the First Bank building on the west side of the street.

Horda said he arrives at work at 6:30 a.m. to chase vagrants from the building’s underground parking facility and has to spend time cleaning graffiti.

He also read a letter from building tenants CPA Associates, which protested the elimination of parking along 13th Street West and the anticipated traffic problems.

Gause said the facility will be designed to discourage vagrants, and will be opened only from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

He said there also will be security camera monitoring 24 hours a day.

Smith said his concern was the location was too far from potential mass transit lines the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority may build.

TBARTA has indicated an rail system would be located along existing rail lines or in the Interstate 75 corridor, and a bus transfer station should be located closer to those areas for a better connection.

Ralf Heseler, manager of MCAT, said the facility was being designed to be more of a transit station where bus riders would either end or originate their trips, than make a transfer.

“The bus transit station is needed now to bring people into the urban core,” Heseler said, “for the economic growth of downtown.”

Gallo disagreed with Heseler, saying that downtown Bradenton was not a destination, but where people make transfers to complete their trips.

“Putting it on 13th Street is just moving the problem a block away,” he said. “It’s going to disrupt traffic and businesses.”

Tim Polk, director of the city planning and community development department, said after the meeting that the facility would spur development along Eighth Avenue West.

“I see it as a boon to the area and property owners with a vision,” Polk said. “It will bring people to the facility.”

Heseler said the station will accommodate up to five buses at one time and will have public restrooms.

The project is estimated to cost about $1.5 million, excluding public art and landscaping.

MCAT received a $2 million grant from Florida Department of Transportation to pay for the construction, which could begin as early as late summer and would take about six months to complete, Heseler said.

Bakker said after the meeting that he may take legal action.

“I’ll probably take the county and city to court,” he said.

Carl Mario Nudi, Herald staff writer, can be reached at 745-7027.