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New convention center hotel wins final OK. In Palmetto, be careful what you call it

The Palmetto City Commission narrowly approved the final step needed for a new hotel to be built at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, with two commissioners standing firm against “Bradenton” being anywhere in the facility’s name.

“My biggest objection is using the term, ‘Bradenton area,’” said Commissioner Brian Williams, who acknowledged he may still be a little “hung up,” on Manatee County’s 2012 decision to rename the convention center without discussing it with the city of Palmetto.

County officials changed the name from Manatee County Civic Center.

“I’m telling you we are a government entity and should have some say so about what’s going on in our community,” Williams said during Monday’s city commission meeting. “I object to what was done to us as a government entity and them not even considering us. I won’t be voting for it if we have to have Bradenton area,” in the name.

The city already approved the general development plan, but Monday’s action to approve an agreement between the developer and the Community Redevelopment Agency was the final step needed to make the hotel happen. The developer will essentially be able to keep 80 percent of the tax increment funds generated by the hotel, up to $6 million.

Developer Tony DeRusso said without that agreement, financing the project would not be possible.

DeRusso said he spent a lot of time working with attorneys, consultants and the Marriott representatives, who brought forward a proposed compromise for the hotel’s name: Palmetto Sheraton Hotel at the Bradenton Area Convention Center. DeRusso said the convention center’s name was essential to the future marketing efforts.

“I definitely understand the sensitivity and we spent months on the naming issue,” DeRusso said. “I wish there was something we could do, but it’s outside our ability regarding the name of that convention center. It’s not fair to hold that over our head over something that happened 12 years ago, but we have to identify that convention center.”

The compromise was enough to sway the vote of Commissioner Harold Smith, who also took exception to the original name.

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Developers get the final approval to build a Sheraton hotel at the Bradenton Area Convention Center. File photo by Tiffany Tompkins Bradenton Herald

“As long as it got Palmetto on the front, I have no problem with that,” Smith said. “We need a hotel and I think we should go with the name. It’s creating jobs, especially in a minority community and we got to think of our citizens.”

The project was supported unanimously in spirit, but having “Bradenton area” in the title at all was enough for Williams to vote against the agreement. He was joined by Commissioner Tambra Varnadore.

“I don’t care what it’s named as long as it doesn’t have Bradenton,” Varnadore said. “It’s a continued slap in our face with everything that happened ... If we don’t stand up for ourselves, no one else will.”

Smith moved to approve the agreement and Commissioners Jonathan Davis and Tamara Cornwell voted to approve.

“You just don’t know how much this sticks in my craw,” Williams said. “It won’t happen again.”

The project calls for an eight-story, 251-room full service hotel with a rooftop lounge and restaurant. A second hotel is “likely,” according to DeRusso and tentatively planned to be a 124-room Key Hotel. Also planned is 7,500 square feet of open space for events and another 7,500 square feet of retail and restaurant space.

DeRusso said he hopes to break ground by late spring.

Breaking News/Real Time Reporter Mark Young began his career in 1996 and has been with the Bradenton Herald since 2014. He has won more than a dozen awards over the years, including the coveted Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting from the Florida Press Club and for beat reporting from the Society for Professional Journalists to name a few. His reporting experience is as diverse as the communities he covers.
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