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Bradenton to push forward on Historic Ware's Creek neighborhood infill project

Tropical plants and moss laden oaks highlight John and Rebecca Neal Park in the Ballard neighborhood of Bradenton. The proposed park sits on the banks of Wares Creek and will feature a community garden, dock, kayak launch and parking area. 
 GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald
Tropical plants and moss laden oaks highlight John and Rebecca Neal Park in the Ballard neighborhood of Bradenton. The proposed park sits on the banks of Wares Creek and will feature a community garden, dock, kayak launch and parking area. GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald gjefferies@Bradenton.com

BRADENTON -- Bradenton's Historic Ware's Creek Neighborhood infill project is back on the move.

City clerk Carl Callahan said he will likely have ready by Wednesday's city council meeting a contract to begin surveying multiple lots bounded by Ninth Avenue West, Ballard Park Drive, Eighth Avenue West and 17th Street West, with two properties encompassing several hundred feet of waterfront along the east bank of Ware's Creek.

For years, Ward 3 Councilman Patrick Roff has targeted the area, marked by what Roff called slumlords catering to a bad element, for revitalization.

The city approached Neal Communities Inc. during the Great Recession to purchase and redevelop the four large properties. The properties were purchased but never developed.

John Neal and his wife Rebecca sold the seven lots back to the city in December 2012 for $284,661, far below their value of $1.3 million.

The city then began meeting with Ware's Creek residents to gauge what the neighborhood wanted. The results were plans for a park and more housing.

The city tore down most of the houses in 2014, and the final house, known affectionately to residents as the "white house," was demolished earlier this year. Efforts were made to save the house, as it was considered to be historic, but there was no evidence of its ties to anything of historical significance.

With demolition complete, the city has been working with the architectural firm Fawley Bryant for a conceptual design of what will become the John and Rebecca Neal Park, which will feature a large community garden and a kayak and canoe launch area. The park will be built on the lot directly across the street from Ballard Park Elementary School. The park will tentatively have 22 parking spaces and be designed with crime prevention in mind. Roff said the school is also offering its parking lot for weekend overflow parking.

The remaining lots will be divided into eight parcels that the city will sell for housing. Callahan said the city will place stipulations on the sales that construction be compatible with the neighborhood's historic architecture.

"We are going to retain control over what types of houses go there," said Callahan. "We'll sell the properties individually or to one developer. That doesn't matter to us as long as we have the ability to make sure that there are nice, new homes that keep up with what that neighborhood wants to see."

The proceeds from the property sales will then be put toward the construction of the park.

"Right now we are playing the part of developer," said Callahan. "It's up to us to do the surveying and plats because we can't sell the properties until those things have been done and I'll have a contract to begin that work coming before the council hopefully by Wednesday's meeting. We are doing some pre-planning for when we put them up for sale so they won't just sit there. They'll be ready to go and I expect we'll have them ready for sale within the next few months."

Roff said he will push for construction of the park to start as soon as possible.

"The park will be my first request since we've waited so long for this to happen," he said. "I'm just glad it's on track. The park is pretty simple and it shouldn't be hard to engineer or pay for. We have reserve funds to get it started and we'll recoup those costs when we sell the properties that the city got for pennies on the dollar. The one property alone on the water where the white house was will likely cover what we paid for all those properties."

Roff said the city was fortunate to find itself with the opportunity to revitalize a troubled neighborhood.

"We were able to cure it from its biggest problem, which was the people living there were drug addicts," said Roff. "They were not only using but selling drugs on 14th Street, then burglarizing homes in this neighborhood."

Roff said since the city demolished the blighted homes, "the drug activity has died off. I'm excited about what it's going to do for the community. We are picking off one neighborhood at a time. We've turned around this neighborhood and Point Pleasant. The Village of the Arts is doing fantastic. It's a great time for all of this to be kicking in and it really is about one neighborhood at a time. The next will be the hardest section of all and that is the south and southeast part of the city."

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

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