MANATEE -- As the U.S. 41 corridor is targeted for redevelopment, some developers may believe environmental problems exist on potential sites.
Testing with new federal grant funds can now eliminate or confirm that perception.
Manatee County, in partnership with Bradenton, Palmetto and the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, received a $500,000 Brownfields Grant notice Friday from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The three-year grant cycle begins Oct. 1.
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, county 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 expansion, redevelopment or reuse is complicated by the possible 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," according to the EPA.
Eligible sites typically include former gas stations, dry cleaners, junkyards and automotive repair shops.
Coryea said eight to 10 assessments will be done with the grant, which will most likely be split between the cities and the county. Potential sites along the U.S. 41 corridor have not been selected. Assessment of potential sites will be done for hazardous or petroleum materials.
"You can do an assess
ment to see if there is an actual problem environmentally there," Coryea said.
If something is found during an initial assessment, a second assessment will identify mitigation courses, Coryea said. If the county doesn't own the property, it can't force an assessment to be done but private property owners usually want the assessment, she said.
"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 likely contract with a third party to do assessments, Coryea said. The county will handle community engagement since it "already has 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 brownfields. People automatically think there is a problem. People can even tell us their thoughts about that."
The county is focusing on redeveloping the southern property with the Southwest TIF, and is rewriting the Land Development Code to address lack of redevelopment along 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. Brownfields 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 Florida look at brownfields sites.
"We try to look at potential brownfields sites 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 CEO 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 supported 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 email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.