Ezra backs out of downtown move

BRADENTON -- Concerned a move would hurt her business, the owner of Ezra Cafe has decided not to relocate to downtown Bradenton.

“Since the information regarding the offer was released to the public, I have received a tremendous amount of feedback from my customers and fellow business owners,” wrote Donna Eason, in an e-mail addressed to the owners of the SunTrust bank building proposed for the relocation. “Based on their response, I am not confident that I will have the support of my customer base to be successful at this location.”

On Feb. 3, the Downtown Development Authority offered Eason $250,000 to cover rent and construction subsidies to ease the relocation of Ezra from its current spot at 5629 Manatee Ave. W. to the SunTrust building, 1001 Third Ave. W.

The offer was contingent on Eason signing a lease with the building’s owner, 3rd Avenue Associates.

The issue of its relocation sparked controversy since it was proposed Feb. 3. Members of the Bradenton City Council complained they were not notified of the negotiations before the DDA voted to approve the subsidy offer.

The council could have vetoed the agreement within 30 days.

“I would have liked to have seen the DDA completely flesh out and discuss and encourage public comment on any kind of incentives to bring in new businesses,” Ward 2 Councilwoman Marianne Barnebey said Tuesday.

Ward 5 Councilman Harold Byrd Jr. and Vice Mayor and Ward 3 Councilman Patrick Roff also disagreed with how the deal was done.

“I would have liked to have been informed about it before I was,” Roff told the Herald two weeks ago.

In her letter to John McKay and Ron Allen, partners with 3rd Avenue Associates, Eason described her unease with the publicity.

The “underlying public opinion and the division regarding the transparency of the process within the city government further decreases the likelihood of my success,” Eason wrote in the e-mail, which was dated Sunday. “I do not feel that I can risk the financial liabilities I would incur with the relocation of my business to this site.”

Will Robinson, DDA board chairman, said future issues will “be in our public hearings and we will keep the city council informed and involved in what we are doing.”

He said the DDA might step back and work on the incentives package offered to businesses to move downtown, including taking a look at different types of businesses that might generate traffic to the area.

“The DDA will continue to look at ways for businesses to invest in downtown Bradenton. What this has done is sparked tremendous interest and discussion and debate,” Robinson said. “We wish Ezra’s the best. She made a business decision.”

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