BRADENTON -- Following the lead of New Port Richey and dozens of other cities statewide, Bradenton city officials are pondering a plan to declare all of its redevelopment zones as “brownfield” areas.
The move could make it easier for landowners and potential business owners throughout the city’s most downtrodden areas to earn tax breaks and loan guarantees in return for generating jobs and cleaning up environmental contamination.
“It just makes sense that we look at being able to provide more opportunities for redevelopment,” said Tim Polk, the city’s planning director. “There are areas that have former gas station sites, former dry cleaner sites and other businesses that use chemicals, or that might even be vacant parcels that used to be businesses.
“We would be able to take those businesses and get tax breaks and other perks for potential property owners, or for those who want to sell or locate there.”
New Port Richey decided just this month to declare thousands of its acres as a brownfield area. Other cities that have followed the strategy include St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Largo, Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Pensacola and Miami.
The term “brownfield,” according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, refers to a site whose “expansion, redevelopment or reuse” may be “complicated by actual or perceived environmental contamination.” Brownfield areas, like the one being contemplated by Bradenton city officials, are often located in “economically deprived areas,” according to the state.
Polk said the regional Metropolitan Planning Organization has already identified about 40 potential brownfield sites throughout Manatee. Many of them are in Bradenton’s three community redevelopment areas, which are already the focus of efforts to boost redevelopment or eliminate blight.
Some of the sites are vacant lots or unused buildings; others contain functioning convenience stores, tire stores and other small businesses. They may or may not be contaminated or in need of some form of environmental cleanup. But all properties within a declared brownfield area would be eligible for the tax breaks and other incentives the designation provides.
Those include a business tax refund of up to $2,500 for every new job created; loan guarantees of up to 75 percent; and sales tax credits for building materials.
Since the brownfield program began in 1997 in Florida, 288 brownfield sites or areas totaling more than 211,744 acres have been created statewide.
St. Petersburg was one of the first cities to participate in the brownfield program and can point to several standout results, said Sophie Sorolis, the city’s economic development manager. They include a job corps center in the city’s Midtown area that generated 120 jobs, and the Johnnie Ruth Clarke Health Center, Sorolis said.
While the state’s brownfield rules allow individual property owners within a declared area to “opt out,” few have done so, Sorolis said.
Polk also pointed to Atlantic Station in Atlanta, Ga., known as the country’s largest brownfield redevelopment effort. While an employee with Atlanta’s city government, Polk said, he was involved in creating the Atlantic Station project, which converted 138 acres that used to house a steel mill into a massive mixed-use project that includes housing, commercial and retail development.
Bradenton’s so-called “Pink Palace,” a 1920s-era building that will soon be converted into a Hampton Inn & Suites, has also been declared a brownfield site and will receive about $100,000 in tax breaks and incentives.
Christine Hawes, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7081.