Manatee looking to spur business growth

MANATEE -- County officials are considering expanding the 14th Street West Community Redevelopment Area and including it in a larger economic development district focused on job creation and business growth.

The area would be set up as a Home Rule Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, district.

“It gives us more latitude,” said Dan Schlandt, deputy county administrator. “It provides a single focus on job creation and economic development for the entire area.”

He termed the idea “a little bigger and bolder” than other possible fixes, during a workshop meeting with county commissioners Tuesday.

“The bigger the TIF, the more likely we can generate revenues to have an impact,” he said.

The district would be bounded roughly by 26th Avenue West on the north; University Parkway on the south; 33rd Street East to the east; and the 14th Street West/U.S. 41 corridor on the west, according to a map displayed during the discussion. In addition to the 14th Street West Community Redevelopment Area on the west, the county’s other redevelopment area would sit in the middle.

After the workshop, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said that under such a plan, as property values grow and property tax collections increase, some of the money would go into a special fund dedicated to community improvements, such as roads and sewer and water lines.

Those amenities, in turn, could help the area attract businesses -- and jobs.

“We can re-energize the neighborhood,” Hunzeker said.

He has high hopes for its long-term success.

“We’re in this for the long haul, setting the stage, so when the economy turns around, we’re ready,” Hunzeker said.

During the next 20 years, the county plans to refocus on urban cores and job creation, so residents benefit from new businesses coming in, he said.

In 2009, the commission authorized the creation of a similar tax increment financing district at Port Manatee. Similarly, a TIF that covers downtown Bradenton has been used to pay for improvements in the area and to attract a new restaurant.

Consultants from the firm WilsonMiller Stantec submitted results of a study still in draft form analyzing data about four areas adjacent to existing Community Redevelopment Areas. Officials designated the redevelopment areas after they determined factors of slum and/or blight existed there.

TIFs are not without their critics, who contend such districts lead to favoritism among developers and business owners, without full oversight of public funds. They contend, among other things, that money needed for services such as schools, public safety and infrastructure ends up going toward paying off redevelopment bonds.

But commissioners sounded mostly upbeat about what they heard Tuesday.

“We need economic revitalization in these areas,” said Commissioner John Chappie. “I look forward to continuing this conversation.”

Commissioner Robin DiSabatino called it a “really innovative plan.”

Several commissioners asked that Sarasota Bradenton International Airport be included in any development district, as it is a generator of business activity and jobs, they said.

The board also heard from Planning Director John Osborne about how the county might grow in the future.

He discussed various planning concepts before offering three options the county might choose: Stay on its present course; focus on filling in urban areas and redevelopment; or focus on new projects and services in four “activity centers.”

He said he would be discussing such options with the public in coming weeks to hear what people have to say about how growth should happen here.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.