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Pink Palace’s fate remains uncertain

BRADENTON — The boarded-up broken windows, forbidding chain-link fence, and fading pink paint that gives the building its endearing nickname give little clue to the past glory of this once-sparkling jewel of downtown.

The fate of what locals call “The Pink Palace,” which in its heyday played host to presidents and the Hollywood royalty when it opened as the Manatee River Hotel in 1925, has been up in the air since it went into foreclosure last year.

Michael Kennedy, director of the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority, has had several inquiries from people interested in the building, but as far as he knows, no one has yet to make an offer to the bank that now owns it.

“I’m still hopeful someone will take over the building,” Kennedy said. “It looks awful on the outside, but it’s still very structurally sound.”

Tim Polk, director of the city Community Development and Planning Department, also has received calls from interested parties.

“Some just want to kick the tires,” Polk said. “They want to go inside and see the structural integrity of the building.”

But Regions Bank, which foreclosed on the seven-story building in October, has yet to show its hand on its plans.

Jeff Cash, the contact person with Regions, did not return a telephone message left at his office.

Neither did the attorney, L. Geoffrey Young, who handled the foreclosure case for the bank.

Manatee County Circuit Court records show Regions won a summary judgment for $3.1 million and scheduled a public auction for Nov. 15.

But the auction was canceled and the status of the building has been in limbo ever since.

Called the Riverpark Senior Residence at the time, local investor Darrell Reha purchased the building in December 2005 for $2.6 million, but got caught in the bust of the economic boom, leading Regions to file the lawsuit in January 2009.

Delaying the auction is not that unusual, according to Jonathan Rosenbloom, an assistant professor of law, specializing in property and land use, at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport.

“They could send out the notice and then realized the notice was incorrect,” Rosenbloom said, “so they have to recall it.”

Another reason an auction is delayed could be because there was little interest shown, he said.

“It’s not unusual for property to be held for one to two years until the real estate market comes back,” Rosenbloom said.

But there is a question of waiting that long while the building continues to deteriorates.

Rosenbloom said the city could take the property through eminent domain. “But it has to be blighted and for public use,” he said.

Several interested parties have mentioned changing it to a mixed-use facility with offices, retail and residential, Kennedy said.

“The city can offer incentives, but they are only given if there is a legitimate need to make a project happen,” he said.

Talks have not progressed that far because the bank has not been indicated its intentions, Kennedy stressed.

When it opened in 1925, the Manatee River Hotel was a mecca for elegant and fashionable guests from across the country, often called the “Queen of the West Coast.”

President Herbert Hoover was a guest of the hotel, as well as film stars Robert Taylor and Tyrone Power.

The hotel also was a focal point for local society gatherings, hosting family luncheons, parties and soirees.

After going through several owners, the hotel closed its doors in April 1966.

But after a facelift and remodeling, the grand old lady reopened in October 1966 as a retirement hotel.

It went through several ownerships as a retirement facility before Reha purchased it in 2005 with plans to bring it back to earlier glory as a boutique hotel.

After years of courting several national hotel chains, the economy caught up with Reha and his grand plans ended with the foreclosure action.

Polk, the city planning director, has not given up on the building.

“I still think something is going to happen,” he said, “but we’ll just have to wait and see.”

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