MANATEE -- As the U.S. 41 corridor is targeted for redevelopment, some developers may have a perception that there is an environmental problem on potential sites.
Manatee County, in partnership with Bradenton, Palmetto and the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, has received a $500,000 Brownfields grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA awarded the three-year grant, which begins Oct. 1, on Friday.
Since Tamiami Trail passes through Bradenton, Palmetto and unincorporated Manatee, the corridor will be the focus of the Manatee County Coalition Assessment Grant for the Tamiami Trail Brownfields Revitalization Project, said Cheri Coryea, the county's neighborhood services department director.
"We can all benefit from redevelopment and revitalization of Tamiami Trail," Coryea said. "We all have had our redevelopment areas overlapping, and it's a natural fit to continue working together. It is really a positive for economic development for the area."
According to the EPA website, brownfields are "real property, the expansion, redevelopment or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant. Cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties protects the environment, reduces blight and takes development pressures off greenspaces and working lands."
Typical eligible sites include former gas stations, dry cleaners, junkyards and automotive repair shops.
With the grant, Coryea said they will be able to complete between eight and 10 assessments, which will most likely be split between the cities and the county, Coryea said. The potential sites have not been selected along the U.S. 41 corridor yet and the assessment of potential sites will be done in two categories -- hazardous material or petroleum material.
"You can do an assessment to see if there is an actual problem environmentally there," Coryea said.
An initial assessment will be completed and if there is the trace of something, then a second assessment will be done to identify the mitigation that could be done, Coryea said. If the county doesn't own the property, they can't force the assessment but most of the time private property owners want to do the assessment, she added.
"Sometimes people have a perception that there is a problem but there is no problem," she said. "The property becomes more attractive for redevelopment."
The county will most likely contract with a third party to do the assessments through the request for proposal process, Coryea said. But the county will do community engagement since they "already have a lot of contacts with the neighborhoods," Coryea said.
"You actually go out in the areas surrounding Tamiami Trail because we are working so heavily in the Southwest (Tax Increment Financing District)," she said. "People get nervous about a brownfield. People automatically think there is a problem. People can even tell us their thoughts about that they think."
The county is focusing on the redevelopment of the southern portions of the county with the Southwest TIF, and the county is in the process of rewriting the Land Development Code to address the lack of redevelopment along the urban corridors in the county, which includes U.S. 41.
"I think it will be very helpful along the southwest corridor for the county because it is a big area of focus," Coryea said.
The county and the cities have received brownfields assessment grants in the past. Some examples of brownfield projects include Palmetto's Riverside Drive Project and the Hampton Inn in downtown Bradenton.
Tim Polk, city of Bradenton planning and community development director, said a lot of national retailers outside of Florida look at the brownfields sites.
"We try to look at potential brownfields sties in all three (Community Redevelopment Agency) sites in Bradenton," Polk said. "The whole idea is to have a master plan of potential brownfields sites in the city and county."
Sharon Hillstrom, president and chief executive officer of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp., said the grants "position us more favorably to attract developers because we have those grant dollars available."
"It has provided an advantage with the companies wanting to locate on a property," she said.
The Bradenton Area EDC was in support of the grant, Hillstrom said.
"It's another tool in the toolbox to present to potential developers particularly in that U.S. 41 corridor that I think will be very helpful," she said.
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.