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Bradenton City Council urged to slow plan to abolish redevelopment agencies

BRADENTON -- A lot was said and little accomplished at a lengthy joint workshop Wednesday between the Bradenton City Council, Bradenton Downtown Development Authority and the Central Community Redevelopment Agency as some council members look to assume direct control of the city CRAs.

DDA Chairman Vernon DeSear said his board requested the meeting to obtain clarity from the council as to the future of the DDA board, which also oversees the Bradenton CRA and 14th Street West CRA.

Councilmembers supporting the transition have said it makes sense for the city to consolidate CRA efforts under the powers of the council, which could free up general fund dollars to help expedite projects so far restrained by limited CRA funding. CRAs can only use tax increment funding generated from their individual districts.

The Bradenton CRA, which encompasses the downtown area, generates more funding than the 14th Street CRA and CCRA in East Bradenton, which have a limited tax base as largely low-income areas.

While three council members have publicly voiced support for the consolidation, there have been differences of opinion in what CRAs and the DDA will look like in the future. Wednesday's meeting ended without much clarification.

One common theme from the more than 50 people attending was if change was coming, slow it down and do it right.

Michael Gallen, vice president for public policy and small business for the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber had not taken a position on the proposed changes.

"I wanted to hear both sides," said Gallen. "The chamber would recommend we slow this down and take a studied approach to this. In listening today, there is a common theme of communication and hopefully, as we go forward, we can address that and have better dialogue."

The talk at times was confrontational. Ward 3 Councilman Patrick Roff accused DDA staff of leaking information to the media before the council was ready to vote on the proposal. He also said he tried to attend DDA meetings and has been disrespected.

When CCRA and DDA board members pointed to the lack of communication and suggested why he come to them individually instead of hashing out differences in a public meeting, Roff asked: "Why didn't you come to us?"

Roff implied he was ready to proceed with the transition.

"This was discussed four years ago so this is nothing new," he said. "We tried doing nothing for four years and have come back to the same conclusion four years later that we are back in the same spot."

What remains a concern for DDA board members such as Mike Carter is there is still no clear defining intent. Carter also recommended slowing the process and garnering more public input before proceeding.

Confusion over where the city wants to go with the CRA was prevalent because ideas vary, and only Ward 4 Councilman Bemis Smith has outlined a specific detailed proposal. Smith said he supports keeping the DDA intact and expanding its role beyond downtown, as well as creating an economic development office at City Hall. He also supports retaining the CRA boards in advisory roles.

Roff said if the DDA remains, he wants more focus on the 14th Street West area.

Ward 5 Councilman Harold Byrd Jr. said he remains open to whether DDA continues as is or as an advisory board and would like a separate 14th Street West advisory board created.

Ward 1 Councilman Gene Gallo and Ward 2 Councilman Gene Brown have not taken a public position, but Gallo has expressed frustration in the lack of progress on 14th Street West, saying "the empty lots are embarrassing." Gallo did say he is interested in creating an economic development agency and expanding the DDA's responsibility.

At the end of the meeting, Brown said he would support slowing the process. Byrd also said perhaps more time is needed before a final vote is taken.

"Maybe this is something we need to take our time on and make the right decision," Byrd said. "We should really take that into consideration."

Mayor Wayne Poston has opposed the change, saying if it isn't broken, there is no need to fix it. When asked if he felt anyone knew anything more than they did before Wednesday's meeting, he said: "No."

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter@urbanmark2014.

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