Special Reports

Business owners are finding creative ways to reuse space


Del Couch took a look at the former radiator shop in downtown Bradenton and saw potential for office space.

Scott Garrett spotted the old tire shop on State Road 64 East and saw a prime location for his produce market.

In this market and economy, business owners are getting more creative about where to house or start up their companies.

As commercial property vacancies continue to grow in Manatee County, many businesses are turning to conversions as a way to be cost effective in starting up or relocating.

“I think converting is an opportunity that a lot of people will look at versus building from scratch,” said Ken Clanton, a licensed Realtor for Wagner Realty. “What you’re going to see is people being creative in times like these. We’re finding people are opening small, mom-and-pop type businesses because they’ve been forced out of a job, and there are a lot of opportunities with existing buildings to convert to a different use.”

On Sixth Avenue West in downtown Bradenton, Couch is finalizing the conversion of an old radiator repair shop, Bob’s Radiators, into office real estate.

The property manager worked with the Bradenton law firm of Grimes Goebel Grimes, which purchased the building, to make the building suitable for its storage and investment needs.

Two-thirds of the building is being used by Grimes Goebel Grimes to store files, and the remainder of the building — about 1,200 square-feet — is waiting on a tenant with a small office staff.

“These older buildings that have limited use, if they can be upgraded it makes a difference,” Couch said. “There’s a lot of buildings in town that are just old and need this.”

The conversion, however, was by no means easy, says Couch.

As part of the two-year process, crews removed years of grease from the walls and floors, coated the interior with a new stucco surface and painted the interior and exterior.

In addition, an environmental audit was completed on the property to ensure it met safety standards.

Scott Garrett went through a similar experience last year when converting an old automobile shop into Market Fresh Produce. A former Tire Kingdom building at 704 Manatee Ave. E. has been open since the fall when Garrett spent $4,000 investment to clean up the building.

“It was pretty easy for me because it was basically just a matter of taking all the old equipment out, pressure cleaning the whole building, painting and redoing the floors,” Garrett said.

In addition, Garrett installed a misting system to keep the fruits and vegetables cool and fresh.

Market Fresh Produce kept the garage doors where tire-changing bays were located and opens them every morning for customers to shop for fruit and vegetables set up on wooden tables.

“I liked the fact that you could open it up and have great visibility to people driving by,” Garrett said.

Clanton has at least three conversions that have either wrapped up or are in the works among his 32 commercial listings with Wagner.

About three months ago, Waste Pro, one of Manatee County’s waste management providers, finished settling into a former 84 Lumber Warehouse near Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.

A former Payless Shoes on First Street in Bradenton is being converted into office space for a new telephone and Internet provider, Astro Tel, at an estimated cost of $50,000-$100,000. And a former Badcock Furniture store on Ninth Street West in Bradenton is gaining interest from tenants that include churches, schools and Manatee County.

Re/Max Gulfstream Realty agent Stan Rutstein said conversion projects in the area are not as active as they could be, but he expects that could change as the market remains in a rut.

“People are talking about it, and there’s interest in it,” Rutstein said. “I think the marketplace is very active with people looking around attempting to figure out what are the alternative uses to make a living. People are going to have to be extremely creative to get excess space utilized.”