PALMETTO -- The Palmetto Community Redevelopment Agency will begin holding town hall meetings Nov. 14 on one of the biggest projects the city has embarked upon: the Old Main Street Complete Street Project.
The project, which will give the city's Old Main Street a major overhaul, is one of six projects under partnership with the Florida Department of Transportation and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Phase one, which starts next year, will coincide with the Green Bridge expansion to create a multimodal trail connecting Bradenton to Palmetto.
Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant said they are separate projects, but the bridge expansion will connect to improvements and a multimodal trail at Riverside Park East and West.
"I think it's going to be a dynamic change to the whole corridor by adding all these amenities, like the trail, upgrading stormwater treatment, adding historical lighting and sidewalks," said Bryant. "It will bring more people into downtown."
The remaining phases approved for state funding are delayed until 2021 but will have a larger impact on the city when under construction at the same time. Because design is expected to start in 2017, Burton said now is the time to involve the public.
"This is about community engagement," said CRA Director Jeff Burton. "The whole idea is to have discussions with the residents about what they envision. We can come up with great ideas, but if the community doesn't buy in, then it won't work."
Amy Lozano, owner of Palmetto Pool Care on Old Main Street for 25 years, said the city is heading in the right direction.
"I think it's a good plan," said Lozano. "This is a nice part of town that I don't think people who live in Palmetto realize is here, so a plan to bring all that foot and bike traffic onto Old Main Street is a great start."
In 2021, the city and Florida Department of Transportation will start work on Old Main Street (10th Avenue West) as part of six projects linked by a multimodal trail. Projects consist of street improvements, landscaping, sidewalks, stormwater improvements and lighting, stretching from Riverside Park West to Old Main Street and north to 17th Street West.
Each of the six phases were expected to begin annually until complete. Burton said it's unusual to be happy about a delay for "the biggest project we've ever done," but it has given the city a chance to take a closer look at the $10 million project.
"We were scheduled to move fast and furious on this, one at a time," he said. "To be honest, we weren't ready for such a big project. There are still so many questions that have to be asked, concepts to be discussed at the city level, and in no way were we prepared to handle those projects one at a time every year. The CRA has to stay financially grounded and we would have had to reach for outside financing."
The CRA applied for each of the six projects last year hoping one or two were approved. Instead, the six-highest ranked projects were all approved. Burton said this is a game changer for the city and is much more than just repaving streets.
"It is a complete overhaul and it tries to address everything from pedestrians to vehicles and even freight so that all of it works in conjunction with one another," he said. "But there are tough questions that have to be answered and one of them is parking. Do we want street parking or wider sidewalks? Those are the kinds of details we need to glean from the public. The public process is an important one because this is the city's downtown corridor and you only get one shot to get it right."
Bryant said the city already has a model in Fifth Street West, which was updated with red-brick pavers decorating intersections and parking areas.
"Fifth Street was our pilot project," said Bryant. "What you will see downtown is something similar in a lot of ways, but there is still a lot to consider and once we go block by block finetuning a plan, we'll look for a lot input from the businesses."
John Batchelor works at Grower's Hardware Co., which has been in existence for 90 years. The quaint small-town store also houses a barbershop and is a local favorite. Batchelor said Fifth Street improvements have had a big impact and he is excited to see improvements expand to the rest of downtown.
"It really helped with parking by creating angled parking and having spaces in front," said Batchelor, who said he wished the city would create more residential opportunities downtown. "I'm seeing a lot more people since the improvements, but you need to mix business with residential and keep things going on at night instead of a grouping of commercial buildings when at 5 p.m., no one is around."
Downtown affordable housing isn't in this project, but it is a concept not lost on the city. Burton said the CRA is going to focus more on housing in the coming years. In the meantime, Bryant said the multimodal trail will get people to an area "where we want to groom it as a pedestrian friendly area."
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter@urbanmark2014.