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Bradenton council OKs Riverwalk project

BRADENTON -- The Bradenton City Council Wednesday unanimously approved in concept a $6.2 million plan to enhance the riverwalk gracing the bank of the Manatee River.

A crowd of more than 120, mostly supporters, cheered as the vote ended Wednesday night at City Hall.

A half-dozen speakers urged the council to embrace the Downtown Development Authority’s project, which is designed to snake 1.25 miles along the river with many different amenities, including a shaded botanical walk/butterfly garden and a skate park.

“We encourage the council to support this project,” said Kim Dalglish, who represented a group of 1,500 young professionals. “It can be a significant catalyst for downtown Bradenton’s redevelopment.”

“People are going to flock to this place,” predicted Geza Darrah, 32, who favored the plan because he was looking forward to the skate park.

Plans call for a great lawn, perhaps where yoga or tai chi classes might take place; an arbor swing overlooking the river; a renovated fishing pier; a shaded bandshell; a family activity area with an interactive fountain and plaza; and an upgraded playground.

Also on the drawing board for the 15-acre project, among other things: sand volleyball courts, a hardscape plaza for viewing and staging competitive rowing events, and a plaza with an existing veterans’ memorial, along with a relocated EMS memorial.

The council approved the plan conceptually; within 60-90 days, the authority will go back to the council for final financing approval, according to Will Robinson, authority chairman.

Dale Weidemiller, project administrator for the Riverwalk project, assured the council that the financing package was conservative, saying, “We’re not going to be coming to you with any budget busts or things of that nature.”

The city council authorized the DDA to issue $5 million in municipal bonds, and will guarantee payment should the DDA default, officials said. The DDA plans to pay only interest on the bonds through 2016, until the expiration of a 30-year interlocal agreement between the city and county that resulted in the construction of the county’s downtown administration building, officials said.

After the agreement expires, the DDA will begin receiving approximately $1.3 million in county tax increment funding, which it can use to increase its debt payment, officials said. Weidemiller hopes to win $1.2 million in state and federal grants to round out funding for the project, he had said previously. Councilman Bemis Smith noted that money for the project comes from businesses and residents who live and work in the DDA district only -- not from taxpayers living outside it.

“If you enjoy this park, thank the businesses and building owners and everyone down here,” he said.

The development authority is the voice of the business community in Bradenton’s Central Business District, and serves as a business advocate between the public and private sectors, according to its website.

Sara Kennedy, reporter, can be reached at 745-7031.

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