Bradenton wants more people to live in downtown. This is how it wants to pay for that

Three new apartment complexes near downtown Bradenton are under construction, including one workforce housing project on Ninth Street East and Sixth Avenue East.

Such development opportunities are limited, so the city has to think outside the box to find more housing opportunities to meet the goal of making an area more attractive to prospective renters, especially millennials seeking an environment where much of their world is within walking distance.

With that goal in mind, the city council last week approved the creation of a new grant program designed to help downtown building owners convert vacant space into apartments.

The new grants will help those owners who are interested in renovating those empty floors into residential units, but wouldn’t necessarily do so otherwise due to the costs associated with converting old storage place into livable units.

In 2016, Panama Street Apartments LP acquired the building with addresses of 420 and 416 Old Main Street with plans for a new restaurant and potentially to renovate the second floor into four new apartments. The restaurant is still in the works but costs associated with renovating upper floors of older buildings for residential use can be cost prohibitive.

The city already has incentives to help alleviate costs of converting downtown space into restaurants and two $25,000 grants have already been awarded, with both grants helping the restaurant boom taking place on 13th Street West. Chateau 13, a western European restaurant is set to open soon and received the first grant.

The Daily Dose Juice Garden recently received the second $25,000 grant to help renovate the space at 536 13th St. W. and is currently under construction.

The city has applied the same philosophy as its restaurant grant to residential and will offer a building owner $6,250 per unit up to $25,000 to encourage building owners to renovate those empty upstairs spaces.

Like the restaurant grant, Jesus Nino, economic development program manager, said funding will only be available for permanent improvements and cannot be used for equipment or furniture. The idea, he said, is that even if a business fails, the improvements to the building itself are permanent and worth the investment.

The program is open to all three of the city’s community reinvetment areas, or CRAs. Economic Development Director Carl Callahan said $100,000 would be dedicated to the new grant for this fiscal year.

“We have some very large projects going on in the CRAs,” Callahan said. “So now we are searching for ways to allow the residents of those CRAs to get a return on their own monies in ways that makes sense to them. We’ve been doing smaller deals like this one and based on the success we’ve seen from them, we’ll have a budget that reflects that.”

Besides the restaurant grants, the city offers a $2,500 facade grant for storefront improvements, of which several businesses have taken advantage.

Nino said the maximum $25,000 is a matching grant and the main purpose of it, “Is to help us eliminate slum and blight.”

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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