State Politics

Bond issue sought for Riverwalk project

BRADENTON -- Downtown development leaders have offered up a proposal to pay for Riverwalk improvements as they tinker with the final design of the city’s enhanced waterfront district.

Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Mike Kennedy asked DDA board members Tuesday to support the issuance of $5 million in bonds to cover the majority of the $6.2 million project. The rest of the money would come from state and federal grants.

“This is a project that we’ve been setting aside dollars for over the past couple of years,” Kennedy said. “We’re in a good position to be able to service the debt if we were to issue a bond.”

Plans for the scenic walkway, which runs along the Manatee River from the Green Bridge past Manatee Memorial Hospital, would make downtown more accessible for pedestrians and stimulate the economy by attracting residents, businesses and tourists.

Kennedy said key components of the final design likely will be a lighted walkway under the Green Bridge, a family zone featuring a children’s water feature at Rossi Park, and a playground and possibly a skate park and sand volleyball courts near the DeSoto Bridge.

City council must approve the bond issuance after the DDA signs off on the Riverwalk design.

Kennedy hopes to present final designs at a DDA workshop Jan. 11 and unveil them to the public sometime in mid-January.

The DDA could approve the project and bond proposal at its regular meeting Jan. 25, paving the way for the city council to consider issuing the bonds in February.

Construction could begin in late spring, with completion tentatively planned for early 2012, Kennedy said.

The DDA board generally backed the bond proposal, but board member Cork Miller said he wants to make sure debt service won’t hamper the authority’s efforts in other parts of the city.

“I want to pay it back and still do what we do,” he said.

Said Kennedy, “I don’t share that concern. ... Even if we’re to invest in this Riverwalk public space, we’ll still have the flexibility to meet other opportunities that present themselves.”

In a Dec. 16 memo, Kennedy presented the DDA board members with budget projections through 2017 for the Bradenton Community Redevelopment Area, which includes Riverwalk.

A 30-year interlocal agreement between the city and county that resulted in the construction of the county’s downtown administration building expires in 2017. After the agreement expires, the DDA will begin receiving more than $1 million in county tax increment funding, which it can use to increase its debt payment.

Under the budget projections, the DDA would pay $279,000 in interest-only debt service on the bonds each year through 2016. In 2007, the DDA would begin paying principal and interest for a total of $643,705.

Also Tuesday, Kennedy told the board that Dale Weidemiller will remain as a volunteer project manager on the Riverwalk project. His consulting contract was terminated Nov. 30.

Weidemiller’s $80,000 contract to oversee Riverwalk and Artisan Avenue projects was scheduled to run through February, but both parties agreed to end it early because of the slow progress of Artisan Avenue, Kennedy said. The move saved the DDA about $16,000.

The Artisan Avenue project aims to provide a walkable area along 11th Street West to connect the downtown waterfront to Village of the Arts.