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DDA strategy raises hopes, but some questions, too

It’s been awhile since Dewey Eason has hosted Southern Vittles Night at daughter Donna’s restaurant, Ezra Cafe, cooking up his mother Eula’s treasured recipe for chicken and dumplings with all the fixins.

June or July might be time for an encore.

That’s when Ezra is expected to re-open at its new first-floor location at the SunTrust Building in downtown Bradenton, thanks to a $250,000 incentive package from the city’s Downtown Development Authority that was approved Thursday.

It’d be a celebration, if you will.

Good for Ezra -- which has cultivated a following over the years at 5629 Manatee Ave. W. -- being able to do the deal.

If such an incentive package is unprecedented, so be it.

It’s a function of the DDA to prime the pump and bring more business downtown.

They’ve got momentum there.

Two more bars are on the way.

Now another restaurant, a classy family business that should be an asset for downtown, albeit at a location that has seen its share of turnover the 13 years I’ve been here.

Begrudge them? Not me.

Neither do some of their future neighbors around the corner on Old Main Street.

Not that they don’t have questions.

A lot of questions.

Principally this one:

Would another restaurant have gotten this arrangement?

One owner I spoke with Friday joked that he went across the street to a competitor and asked: Did you get your $250,000 check?

They dispute the transparency of the process.

They saw the DDA strike the deal with NDC Construction President Ron Allen, whose SunTrust Building is up for sale and wonder.

I know it’s not on Old Main Street, but if the DDA is hatching plans outside the proverbial box, what about reviving the old Zio’s location?

Blessed with plenty of parking, it was a popular destination -- despite some drivers’ propensity for crashing into the building’s southwest corner.

Obviously, it needed a drive-through.

There are probably many who question the DDA’s incentive strategy on principle.

Yet this is its mission and city officials say they want to bring more restaurants downtown.

Similar public/private mechanisms -- i.e., bond issues -- have been used to revitalize downtown arteries for commerce just a few hours east of here.

Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach, where I lived for 11 years, is such an example.

What was once a sleepy thoroughfare is lined with shopping and restaurants from AIA westward.

Then there’s Clematis Street in West Palm Beach, which has its own bigger version of Get Down Downtown every Thursday night.

Whether the Bradenton DDA’s grand plan will succeed -- that includes the $6.2 million Riverwalk -- time will tell.

Meantime, Ezra is part of the big picture.

That picture includes the famous apron Dewey Eason dons for Southern Vittles Night, one the family could market and sell for a few more bucks.

The inscription on it reads: “Never Trust A Skinny Chef.”

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Please call Vin Mannix at 745-7055, write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, FL. 34206 or e-mail him at vmannix@bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification purposes.

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