BRADENTON -- A plan to build one- and two-bedroom apartments on a key downtown parcel advanced through the Bradenton Planning Commission on Wednesday despite opponents’ claims that the plan was a waste of premium property.
Now, the Bradenton City Council is expected to decide June 8 whether the River Song project’s transformation from a luxury housing development with ground-floor retail at 606 Third Ave. W. into rental units and no retail is a worthy use of waterfront-abutting real estate.
The Planning Commission’s 3-2 vote in favor of the revised River Song plan followed impassioned comments from Ed Vogler, an attorney representing Bradenton Riverfront Partners, and several residents of the nearby River Dance luxury condominium development.
“Whenever dreams don’t become reality, there’s disappointment,” said Vogler, addressing complaints about the removal of retail from River Song. “And no one’s more disappointed than us.” But he said the economic downturn over recent years has left retailers with no interest in locating on the groundfloor of River Song until downtown Bradenton offers more residents. “You need to put people with purchasing power in place.”
Opponents to the latest version of River Song, which has undergone four evolutions since first proposed six years ago, were not convinced. They were already disappointed that retail and office space had been eliminated from the development, which also shrunk from five stories to three.
They were further troubled to learn Wednesday that the residential offerings would be small units of 700 to 1,200 square feet, for rent at a monthly cost of $900 to $1,500.
“You want to have a rental community? I don’t want to be next to it as an owner,” said David Lodwig, who lives in nearby River Dance. “An owner brings something different to premiere property than a renter.”
“It’s an emotional issue at this point,” said Victoria Horstmann, a River Dance resident and Realtor. “We were promised something that hasn’t been delivered. It’s really important we continue to develop commercial spaces downtown.”
Tom Seguin, a River Dance resident and member of the Downtown Development Authority charged with revitalizing downtown Bradenton, was most frustrated by the new plan’s lack of retail, which was envisioned as a key feeder to the $6 million Riverwalk project the city will kick off in a few months.
Seguin, also a Manatee Chamber of Commerce board member, noted that 77 percent of respondents to a survey by the Realize Bradenton revitalization effort said restaurants are what would most effectively draw them to the riverfront.
“I ask you to hold (developer) Bob Hatfield to his word to build what he promised to the citizens of Bradenton,” Seguin said.
Vogler reiterated what he’s been saying for weeks in response to concerns like those of Seguin and other River Dance residents: the overall development surrounding River Song is slated to feature up to six restaurants with outdoor dining areas, and almost 40,000 square feet of retail overall.
Planning Commissioner Diane Barcus, one of two panel members to vote against the revised plan, challenged Vogler’s explanation of why retail was no longer a viable option for River Song’s lower floor.
She asked why the development could not simultaneously include retail and residential areas.
“You can’t get people there without the amenities. Conversely, you can’t support the amenities unless you have the people. You always have to do the cart with the horse.”
Commission Chair J.B. Taylor joined Barcus in voting against the amended plan. Commissioners Adam Buskirk, Allen Prewitt, and Allen Yearick voted in favor of the plan. Commissioner Peter Keenan was absent.