Commissioners OK Ellenton movie theater, hotel, no matter the traffic it might bring

Not everyone agrees that the corner of Factory Shops Boulevard and 60th Avenue East is the right spot for a potential hotel, movie theater and commercial retail space, but Manatee commissioners voted to approve it.

The main point of contention at Thursday’s land use meeting? Traffic.

Darenda Marvin, the planner on the project comprised of up to 330 hotel rooms, 120,000 of retail space and a 50,000-square foot movie theater, took the opportunity to address those concerns head on.

“What’s the point of shying away from traffic,” she said. “I wanted to go ahead and talk about it up front.”

Marvin is confident that the board’s decision to spend a total of $10.5 million on three different traffic infrastructure projects in the county’s capital improvement plan will significantly reduce traffic issues in what Commissioner Betsy Benac called, “an interesting area that’s going to see a lot of change.”

While residents and commissioners were leery about how the development might add to an already congested area, Marvin suggested that the walkability of the area would encourage hotel visitors to keep their cars off of the road.

“I know from when I travel with my boys for sports, we look for hotels that are surrounded by things to do and this is one of those areas,” she said, adding that the developer wouldn’t be interested in constructing an easement that connects the space to the Premium Outlets parking lot.

That says nothing of the addition of commuters that will be drawn to the movie theater, said Ellenton resident Andy Branco.

“I have no objections to a movie theater. The problem is that the theater is in the wrong place,” Branco told commissioners. “You are creating a traffic hazard.”

Commissioner Priscilla Trace, who represents the district where the development is planned, mirrored his concerns, using the holiday season as an example of how backed up traffic gets.

“This time of year U.S. 301 is backed up into 60th. I appreciate you understanding the problem,” Trace said, acknowledging Marvin’s consideration of congestion in the area. “It’s not your problem to fix, it’s more of a staff problem, but that’s why I’ve had an issue with this development since Day 1.”

Trace was alone in casting her dissent in the board’s vote to approve the plan. Commissioners Vanessa Baugh and Carol Whitmore said it’s the county’s job to fix traffic and approve development. The Planning Commission voted to recommend the project plan Nov. 8.

“There’s not much we can do about traffic, which is very frustrating for the board, but I do know that you will build a great hotel,” Baugh told developer Jitan Patel, who owns the Holiday Inn at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.

Whitmore was more interested in supplying the need for a movie theater in the northern part of the county.

“There’s a lot of young people in north county that want a movie theater,” Whitmore said. “This is a request from the citizens of north county and it’s our job to provide the infrastructure.”

Marvin said the square footage stated in the general development plan is in reference to maximum limits and that it’s likely the land won’t be able to fit each of those developments.

According to Patel, the project is still in the design phase, with construction slated to begin in late 2019 or later. The project will be built in phases and completed in three to five years.