Bradenton DDA offers $250K to move Ezra Cafe downtown

BRADENTON — The city’s Downtown Development Authority has put together a $250,000 incentive package to lure a west Bradenton restaurant downtown.

On Thursday, the DDA board unanimously approved the package, which includes construction contributions and rent subsidies, to convince Ezra Cafe to move to the ground floor of the SunTrust Building on Third Avenue West.

Mayor Wayne Poston and City Clerk Carl Callahan spoke in favor of the move while acknowledging that offering such incentives to a restaurant is unprecedented.

But it fits with the city’s goal of driving economic development by making downtown more attractive to residents, they said.

“It’s a little bit out of the box, but it’s a very unusual economy,” Poston said. “We need three more restaurants downtown.”

Said Callahan, “We’re not just looking at bringing one restaurant down here. We’re looking at bringing a lot of people downtown.”

Ezra Cafe — owned by Manatee High graduate Donna Eason, a research assistant professor at Children’s Research Institute in St. Petersburg — will be moved from 5629 Manatee Ave. W. to the Sun Trust Building, 1001 Third Ave. W. The new Ezra Cafe will inhabit the former JD’s Cafe, which closed late this past year, and a vacant space behind it.

The cafe plans to offer lunch and dinner menus, a take-out service and catering business.

“We are truly honored to be included in the development of downtown Bradenton,” Eason told the DDA.

The incentive package, funded by the DDA and contingent upon Ezra signing a lease with the building owner, offers $150,000 for construction of a 4,253-square-foot restaurant and $100,000 in rent subsidies.

The construction contribution would contain a “burn-out” clause that would require the restaurant to reimburse the DDA on a sliding scale if it leaves the location before the end of four years. The restaurant would receive $75,000 up front and the remainder when it receives a certificate of occupancy.

The rent subsidies would be paid out in four annual installments of $25,000 each.

The total construction cost is estimated at $320,013.16.

Ron Allen, the president of NDC Construction and a managing partner of building owner Third Avenue Associates, said the rent subsidies and reductions from the building owner will reduce Ezra’s rent from between about $20 per square foot to about $8 per square foot.

“We all have a part to play in this, which I think is a wonderful recipe for success,” Allen said. “No matter how good or established you are, it’s always difficult getting started.”

Allen said it will take less than three weeks to finalize a lease with the restaurant. The new cafe could open in June or July, he said.

The seven-floor SunTrust Building was constructed in the early 1980s. Allen said the 78,000-square-foot building will boast 90 percent occupancy if Ezra Cafe locates there.

Current tenants include SunTrust Bank, NDC Construction, Christopher, Smith CS&L, Shinn and Co., and Lewis Longman & Walker.The building is currently for sale, with an asking price of $11.75 million.

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